Protests over unpaid NSFAS allowances stop education across SA

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Students protest over NSFAS allowances in the centre of East London last week. (Photo: Nombulelo Damba-Hendrik, GroundUp)
Students protest over NSFAS allowances in the centre of East London last week. (Photo: Nombulelo Damba-Hendrik, GroundUp)

A month after universities and TVET colleges started the 2020 academic year, protests at various institutions across the country have led to the suspension of numerous classes, while some institutions have resumed teaching.

GroundUp reports that Higher Education Minister Blade Nzimande has urged students not to disrupt the academic programme, though many have still not received their National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) allowances.

This despite the NSFAS having transferred "more than R4.2 billion to all 26 universities in upfront payment to aid students further with accommodation and transport allowances pending the submission of registration data", according to a statement released by Nzimande on Sunday.

GroundUp took a look at the situation at several campuses in the country.

Eastcape Midlands College

As of Monday, Eastcape Midlands College has suspended classes at all eight campuses. For the past five weeks, students have been protesting over unpaid NSFAS allowances.

Staff were meeting on Monday to plan their own protest action over salary increases and other issues with management.

Students are boycotting classes because of the non-payment of NSFAS allowances. Brickfields, Grahamstown, Charles Goodyear, High Street, Park Avenue, Heath Park, Graaff-Reinet and Thanduxolo campuses are all affected.

College principal Charl van Heerden said: "We only see a few students coming in and out, so the doors of learning are still open so we can't call it a total shutdown."

A student at the Thanduxolo campus in KwaNobuhle, Uitenhage, said last Thursday: "There are only empty chairs inside… Today, we are supposed to be writing test one. If you fail this test, school policy says you can't qualify for [the] NSFAS because it is the first test of the year."

At the gate, students read a court order posted by a security guard. It was issued by the Grahamstown High Court and bars 10 former Student Representative Council (SRC) members from entering the premises of the eight campuses as well as the head office in Uitenhage.

READ MORE: NSFAS set to write off debt of more students, says administrator

Last month, Van Heerden promised protesting students that NSFAS allowances would be paid in three to four days.

He said many students had been paid, but "the longer the strike, the longer it will take for them to get paid NSFAS allowances because students must physically be at school for screening, filling in forms".

"I cannot allow new 2020 SRC elections to happen because of the ongoing strike. The environment is not conducive."

Sabelo Madlala, who was elected as SRC president last year, said he was aware his name was on the court list alongside other former members.

"We still regard ourselves as SRC members because there is no new SRC elected yet at the college, and students enlist our help for guidance.

"We urge all students to remain united across all campuses," added Madlala.

NSFAS administrator Dr Randall Carolissen said the college had requested the NSFAS to take over the disbursement of allowances to students as "they had administration challenges".

Buffalo City TVET

Classes at Buffalo City TVET (BCC) resumed on Monday.

Students from BCC St Marks campus has been protesting for over a week.

Last week, students blocked the college entrance, demanding NSFAS allowances for accommodation and food, which they say the college owes them for two months. Students were refusing to return to classes until their NSFAS allowances are in their bank accounts.

Students said some had received their allowances on Friday and the university promised to pay the rest of the allowances over the course of this week.

Walter Sisulu University

According to Walter Sisulu University spokesperson Yonela Tukwayo, only the Buffalo City and Mthatha campuses have suspended classes. On Monday, the vice-chancellor, Rob Midgely, was to meet SRC presidents from all four campuses.

Students have been protesting since last Monday. On Thursday, they announced a shutdown until Midgely resigns.

In a memorandum, they said they wanted all deregistered students to be reinstated; the removal of the security company on campus; and all NSFAS allowances to be paid.

The students said accredited residences do not meet government standards and they wanted an investigation into the process of off-campus residence accreditation.

Cape Peninsula University of Technology

Last week, protests at the Cape Peninsula University of Technology's (CPUT) Bellville campus turned violent, with cars and food trucks being set ablaze.

Students were demanding the suspension of students, following the Fees Must Fall protests, to be cancelled. They also want the provision of more residences and housing.

A decision was taken on Sunday to suspend university operations across all CPUT campuses on Monday. It will resume on Tuesday.

READ: CPUT closed again, students 'forced' to join protests

"An executive management team has been working around the clock to bring an end to protest action which ground operations to a halt last week.

"We apologise to our students, staff and other stakeholders for the inconvenience and assure them that we are doing everything possible to get the institution operating as normal," said CPUT spokesperson Lauren Kansley.

Umgungundlovu TVET College

Students at Umgungundlovu Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) College protested over unpaid NSFAS allowances last week. By Friday, some students said they had received their NSFAS allowances and on Monday all students from the five campuses were back in class.

The Department of Higher Education said it was in constant consultation with the NSFAS and all affected institutions.

Nzimande added he would continue to monitor the situation at the affected institutions.

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