‘We have gone national’: Unisa student leadership on shutdown

Unisa shutdown could continue
Unisa shutdown could continue

It began with the shutting down of the Sunnyside and KwaZulu-Natal campuses of the University of South Africa.

And now angry students, who are disgruntled with the way the university is handling various issues, have ensured that their protests have reached nearly all Unisa campuses across the country.

This national shutdown threatens to drag on indefinitely unless the university’s management engages students and shows willingness to assist.

These were the sentiments expressed by president of Unisa’s student representative council Wadzanai Mazhetese who told City Press that plans were in motion to ensure the shutdown of Unisa in one last province – Limpopo.

“As of today I can confirm that Johannesburg has been shut down, Pretoria has been shut down KwaZulu-Natal has been shut down, Eastern Cape has been shut down, Western Cape has shut down, Mpumalanga has been shut down and we are just finalising the shutdown of Limpopo which will be the last place,” he said.

Unisa is the country’s biggest tertiary institution because of its distance-learning programme, and has enrolled a third of the country’s university students.

Following the release of examination results on Friday, protest action broke out at the Unisa Sunnyside campus in Tshwane on Monday morning as students blocked Justice Mohammed Street with rocks and burning tyres.

According to a statement released by the institution on the same day, “Unisa had released 99% of the first semester examination results”.

Mazhetese said that students were angry because it took so long for the results to be released and, when they were, there were inconsistencies.

Read: Unisa failed to probe principal who ‘kowtowed’ to union, EFF students

He told City Press that the results and issues relating to the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (Nsfas) were chief among the grievances of students.

“We engaged with management yesterday [August 5] from 8am until 5pm but it was all in vain as we reached a stalemate,” he said.

“Some of the demands we tabled included that every student was to be given his or her examination transcript so that they can carry out a verification process of their exams. If a student has a query he or she can then seek a remark. But management is refusing to do that.”

Mazhetese added: “Other issues included the matter of Nsfas. Students are not getting their allowances efficiently and accurately. For instance students who are supposed to get R5000 for their book allowance only receive a mere R1800. The university must audit this process.”

The president of the student body said another meeting would take place on Tuesday in an effort to reach an agreement.

Unisa spokesperson Thomas Huma confirmed this to City Press on Tuesday morning.

“There is a meeting going on at the moment between the student leadership and university management. I am currently at the Sunnyside campus, monitoring the situation and reporting back. It is calm at the moment,” he told said.

The chairperson of Unisa’s student representative council in the Western Cape, Sifundo Ndzube, said that engaging with management at his respective campus would be useless.

“We received the mandate from our national student council late yesterday after the meeting with management at the main campus in Sunnyside and we were left with no choice but to shut it down,” he said.

“Senior management does not want to listen and seems like the only way anything ever happens is when people fight to be heard or listened to.”

Reiterating Mazhetese’s sentiments, Ndzube said that this “shutdown was not just about the fact that results were delayed, but also about the results themselves.”

“The results were delayed but it is also clear that something went wrong in the marking of the scripts. The results were very problematic,” he said.

“If we had had one or two students complaining we could view it as a simple human error. But now we have had a large number of students, almost everyone complaining about their marks. Students who have been told they were absent during an exam session but did in fact write.”

This seemed to be the consensus across the various regions. Chairperson of Unisa’s student council in KwaZulu-Natal, Lungile Nhlenyama (28), said the strike would not end unless students were given access to their examination scripts.

“Exams were written in May and June yet some students still have not received their results, “she said.

“Those who have received them have cried foul, saying that these were not a reflection of what they wrote. Results are not consistent – one day they reflect a pass, the next day it states that a student has to write a supplementary exam.”

“Nhlenyama added that the strike at her campus had begun on July 31.

“We will not stop until every student has received his or her script. Right now we can’t even be sure if our exams were actually marked,” she said.

With the meeting currently under way at the Unisa main campus in Pretoria, Mazhetese said: “If today’s meeting proves fruitless we will call for students from all our regions to come and gather here. As we speak there are comrades on the ground, already mobilising.”

Huma said that although the SRC may have intended for a national shutdown, Unisa protection services who were based on campus confirmed that only the Sunnyside, Durban, Pietermaritzburg, Richardsbay, Port Elizabeth and Cape Town campuses were experiencing a shutdown. 

Huma said that some campuses were partially closed and that in some instances exams were still continuing, even though student services had been suspended. 

“Only one person was injured by the SAPS when rubber bullets were fired at students blocking a main road in Pietermaritzburg. The incident did not take place on the Unisa campus, but in a public road. No arrest or other injuries were reported to Protection Services,” Huma said. 

“Please note that talks are still ongoing with the student leaders. The University will issue a statement after this meeting,” Huma said.  

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