Nelson Mandela University students protest over security, free education

Students at Nelson Mandela University in Port Elizabeth protest for better security measures after a student has been raped on campus. Picture: File.PHOTO:
Students at Nelson Mandela University in Port Elizabeth protest for better security measures after a student has been raped on campus. Picture: File.PHOTO:

Students at Nelson Mandela University have embarked on a mass protest and threatened to shut down the campus if their grievances are not addressed.

The South African Students Congress (Sasco), which also leads the university’s Student Representative Council (SRC), raised concerns about the university’s protection services department, the security of shuttle services, as well as National Student Financial Aid Scheme (Nsfas) accommodation payments for students who live off campus.

Students are still not happy with the security department’s head, Derek Huebsch, who last year came under fire after an incident where an unauthorised person gained access to the university premises and stabbed a student.

Another student was raped in the same location.

“Our view is that this department needs to be restructured both at an operational and strategic level,” said Sasco in a statement.

SRC deputy president, Qhamane Sinefu, said Huebsch was “incompetent” and had “no sense” of how to ensure safety on the campus.

Sinefu said they had learnt that Huebsch’s contract comes to an end soon and the students do not want the university to offer him a new one.

Attempts to contact Huebsh were unsuccessful at the time of publication.

The students said they were happy with a functioning shuttle service but had concerns about the security of the service.

Sinefu said they were also worried about the certainty of the contract because the service providers were “operating on a month-to-month contract”.

He said a contract of seven to ten years with the service providers would be ideal.

Students also demanded that the institution speed up the process of implementing free education.

In December 2017, former president Jacob Zuma announced that education for the poor and working class should be free from 2018.

“Sasco believes that government, universities, together with the private sector, should be more creative in finding ways of implementing this announcement so that students, particularly those that are already in the system, are able to receive their various allowances and support material to participate in academic activities from an equal footing,” Sasco’s statement read.

Sasco also had concerns about students who live off-campus and depend on Nsfas for financial aid.

“Many off-campus students have received threats from their residence management that after the long weekend they will get evicted,” Sasco said in a statement.

Sinefu said the students have engaged with the managers of the off-campus residences and “we asked them to bear with us”.

The students will attempt to find a solution with the university management on Wednesday afternoon.

“We expect timelines and proper plans,” said Sinefu ahead of the meeting.

“Engagements between university management and protesting students are ongoing and we are not in a position to respond to the specifics as yet,” said Nelson Mandela University media manager, Zandile Mbabela.

Vehicle access to the campuses has been closed and the university advised staff members and students to liaise with their line managers and lecturers for alternative work options as negotiations with the protesting students continue.

- Additional reporting by News24

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