Wits protest: They fund Homo naledi, but not us

Nompendulo Mkhatshwa incoming SRC president at Wits. Picture: Elizabeth Sejake
Nompendulo Mkhatshwa incoming SRC president at Wits. Picture: Elizabeth Sejake

Three students, including newly elected SRC president Nompendulo Mkhatshwa, explain how the proposed Wits University fees affects them.

The increase is bad for poor students

One of the prominent faces of the #WitsFeesMustFall protest is the newly elected SRC president, third-year BSc geography student Nompendulo Mkhatshwa.

On day one of the protest, Mkhatshwa was seen shouting at the top of her lungs on raised platforms, clenching her fist in the air with her head wrapped in an ANC scarf.

She disputed claims from the university that student leaders were consulted about the fee hike.

“If I don’t get a bursary next year, I am in trouble because my parents cannot afford it.

“My mum doesn’t understand why the SRC must raise R1 million a month.

“Those with economic power and those in government have failed to organise themselves to provide funding for future leaders.”

The 22-year-old works part time as a student researcher, which contributes to her fees, but she says she cannot afford another increase.

“There are many students who work and are paying their way by working part-time jobs, so I can sympathise. I am working; I am studying; I am protesting. It is a lot.

“This increase is especially problematic for those from a working class background – which, when you link race and class together, will be predominantly black. They are going to have a huge crisis and the reason we are protesting is because we are seeing the effects of increases every year.

“We see the number of students who must go home because they cannot afford the fees. They come here with straight A’s, but it is not enough; they must be wealthy too. This is not a new thing; we should be mitigating it.”

They fund Homo naledi, but not us

Soweto-born BA student Koketso Poho got into a verbal altercation with an older man trying to use an entrance at Senate House that he and fellow students had blocked off.

The man reprimanded Poho and others for shouting “voetsek!” to people trying to force their way in.

“I am a member of the EFF and I am also an angry student. I am angered by this fee increase because, if fees increase, it means people who are from poor backgrounds and poor communities – which are predominantly black – are further being excluded from this university. So it means that it is not enough that you qualify to be here; it is not enough to be smart; you must also be wealthy. It is an injustice,” Poho told City Press.

As he spoke, his eye glanced at the blocked entrance. He occasionally shouted orders to his “comrades” to organise themselves better to prevent people from forcing their way in.

“Even bursaries are affected when fees increase because they are going to say: ‘This is what we have budgeted for your degree and, when fees increase, the student must pay the deficit.’

Poho said his father died years ago, having only ever worked as a gardener. His mother was recently retrenched from her job. He says the fee increase is threatening his family’s welfare.

“Even [financial aid scheme] NSFAS does not secure me funding next year. Earlier this year, there were students who met the criteria for financial need and academic merit, but still, 2 788 students were sent home because there was no money.

“They [the university] fund research that tells us Africans have brains the size of oranges. They fund Homo naledi causes; but students who need money to study and eat must suffer.” 

The increase takes food off our table

When City Press arrived at Wits University on Wednesday morning, three female students were sitting in one of the lifts, books in hand.

They were “securing” the lift as part of the strategy by student protesters to stop all use of lifts on campus. Occasionally, the three would get into spats with those who attempted to use the lift. One of the students, who asked not to be named for fear of intimidation, spoke to City Press from inside the lift about her constant struggle to pay her fees.

The final-year BSc student lives in Daveyton on the East Rand and commutes by taxi daily to the university.

“I basically live on the border of Mpumalanga and Gauteng. I commute to school every day because I don’t have enough money to stay at a residence. The residences are expensive – some are going for R60 000 a year.”

Her estimation was based on the annual cost of a self-catering residence, where you must also pay for your own food.

“This protest is personal for me because my mother pays for my fees. I have not even settled my fees for this year. My mum is self-employed in the informal sector; so, really, she is unemployed. She stands outside in the streets and sells some cloths, and that is how we make our money. Any increment on fees takes away directly from what we could have at home.

“I have two brothers who both have to go to school; they both need clothes and we all need food. So the increase we are talking about takes food off our table, as well as other basic necessities. It was hard enough staying at university this year. I paid just under R10 000 for registration. It was a lot of money to come up with at the beginning of the year. We borrowed from friends and family to make it happen.”

The teary-eyed student said it had been a huge struggle for her to get to her final year. She has aspirations of pursuing a postgraduate degree next year, but is concerned the fee increase will place an even greater burden on her family because postgraduate study is in any event significantly more expensive than undergraduate study. 

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