Fees protests: Wits SRC raises R4m to assist students as union prepares to meet Blade Nzimande

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Wits University students protesting on 11 March 2021 in Johannesburg.
Wits University students protesting on 11 March 2021 in Johannesburg.
PHOTO: OJ Koloti/Gallo Images via Getty Images
  • The SA Union of Students says it will meet Higher Education Minister Blade Nzimande this week.
  • The union says if Nzimande does not give fruitful answers in response to their demands, they will march to the Union Buildings.
  • Wits University's SRC says it has decided to start allocating the R4 million it has raised to assist students.

As student protests continue at higher education institutions, the student representative council (SRC) at the University of the Witwatersrand says it has raised almost R4 million to assist students in need.

On Tuesday, SRC president Mpendulo Mfeka said the funds would be allocated to students who were at risk of being financially excluded, and those who were unable to register for the 2021 academic year due to financial difficulties.

Mfeka said, while it was the SRC's target was to raise R21 million, it decided to start allocating the funds because the registration period would close.

"If we wait until we have R21 million, we won't be in a position to assist these students," Mfeka added.

READ | 2 students suspended, but not for protests, says Wits

News24 reported in February that Mfeka said the SRC reached out to non-profit organisations and companies for support as part of its efforts to reach the R21 million target.

He said the SRC decided to step in and raise the funds because it felt student debt did not only affect them, but their families too. Some looked forward to graduating so that they could be breadwinners at home.

Mfeka said on Tuesday:

The campaign [was] largely an intervention strategy for the financially needy and our target was R21 million because in our estimation, [the amount] would have been enough to cover the number of students that are at financial risk. Currently on campus, the required debt for students to register is R40 million and we had since made the plea to [the] university to say it must meet us halfway; raise the other half and we will raise the other half, hence the R21 million.

He said donors would be made public at a later stage.

WATCH | Mthokozisi Ntumba killing: 4 cops appear in court

Wits has been at the centre of protests in recent weeks after students took to the streets to fight for free, quality and decolonised education.

Protests in Braamfontein took a tragic turn two weeks ago when a passer-by, Mthokozisi Ntumba, was shot dead, allegedly by police who were dispersing students.

The South African Union of Students (SAUS) convened a meeting with the higher education department to submit its demands.

It later called for a national shutdown.

Meeting with Blade Nzimande

SAUS national organiser, Yandisa Ndzoyiya, said the union was expected to meet with Higher Education Minister Blade Nzimande this week. If there is no fruitful outcome, they will take to the streets and march to the Union Buildings in Pretoria.

Ndzoyiya said students from all higher education institutions were being mobilised in preparation for the meeting.

He said the union had been unable to meet with Nzimande and that his deputy, Buti Manamela, was not giving them "satisfactory responses".

Ndzoyiya said the minister was expected to bring a delegation to the meeting. Student bodies and the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) were expected to be part of the engagement.

He said their demands remained that student debt should be scrapped, that every student should be registered, and that financial exclusion should be stopped. He added that the union also believed there should be alternative funding to assist post-graduate students.

Ndzoyiya said:

We are trying by all means to engage the minister, NSFAS and all stakeholders. If the minister does not give a solution then we have to meet the president. And there is one office of the president, and that is the Union Buildings and that's where we are going to meet the president.

Meanwhile, Mfeka said the Wits SRC was expected to hold a mass meeting with students at 16:00 on Tuesday.

He said resolutions from the mass meeting would determine a way forward.

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