Protesting NMU students blockade campus entrance over registration, accommodation

Students protest at one of the entrances at Nelson Mandela University in Port Elizabeth. (Raahil Sain, Correspondent)
Students protest at one of the entrances at Nelson Mandela University in Port Elizabeth. (Raahil Sain, Correspondent)

Students at the Nelson Mandela University (NMU) in Port Elizabeth protested and blockaded the entrance to the institution's South Campus on Monday.

NMU said it was made aware of disruptions to classes and "acts of intimidation" at other campuses and condemned the protest action, it said in an initial post on its official Facebook page earlier on Monday.

The protest action was attended by students from various student political organisations, including Sasco, DA Student Organisation (DASO) and the EFF.

NMU said the reasons for the protest action had at that point not been formally communicated to university management, in accordance with the mutually agreed engagement protocol.

"In the interim, the university exercised its right to enforce the standing interdict by serving the protesting students. They were urged to desist from continuing disruptions and to engage on issues in line with the requisite protocols," the Facebook post said.

However, amid chanting and burning rubble at the protest on Monday, students vowed that the shut down would continue until their demands were met.

Students said their lives have become difficult upon arrival for each academic year.

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DASO chairperson Prince Sekere said that it had a sit-in with management last week and communicated various demands. Sekere said they had warned management if their demands were not met, they would shutdown the institution come Monday.

"We made it clear to students that most of our demands were not met and because the demands were not met, we're taking this fight to the streets," Sekere said.

Their demands included that students who were admitted should be academically cleared to register and given accommodation status.

Sekere said that DASO had submitted approximately 4 000 student names who had been academically accepted at NMU. He said these students were not allowed to register, had no accommodation and resorted to squatting.

'Historical debt'

Sekere said in the past the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) funded private accommodation for students. However, the SRC, which is Sasco led, agreed with management that private accommodation would not be used in 2020.

According to Sekere, Sasco and EFF students wanted to hold a mass meeting on Monday, but when they saw DASO students barricading the road, they joined in the shutdown.

Sasco chairperson Sonwabile Ngoza said historical debt was a major issue that prevented students from re-registering at NMU.

"There was a process called student exemption, where the institution allowed you to apply. And according to how good your application was, it allowed you to carry over your debt and register. But now we have noticed that the majority of those applications have been rejected by the institution," said Ngoza.

Ngoza said they were demanding that NMU reopen the accreditation process to service providers and that NMU finds rooms for students in the interim pending their NSFAS appeals and their appeals for registration exemption.

"Those students are sleeping in labs. They are sleeping in libraries. The university is blind or is wearing blinkers to the fact that you have students who are not accommodated anywhere."

ALSO READ | Student union calls for national university shutdown after talks break down

He called on NMU to extend the registration period for at least another month.

Following NMU's initial statements, NMU spokesperson Zandile Mbabela said the university had received a memorandum of demands and were engaging the SRC.

"Cognisant of the perennial challenges that arise at the start of the academic year, the university, through various meetings with student leadership, has been pro-actively implementing solutions and addressing student issues as they arise.

"Some of the concerns raised in the memorandum have already been dealt with through the aforementioned engagements, and this is reflected in the memorandum. The university will respond to the memorandum within the agreed upon time frame," said Mbabela.

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