On Friday, Blade Nzimande, the Minister of Higher Education, Science, and Innovation, met with Universities in South Africa (USAF) to address concerns raised by protesting university students. The Student Representative Council (SRC) of the University of Witwatersrand (Wits) began their protest action on Wednesday, which continued until Friday as reported by NEWS 24.
On Thursday, roughly 200 students interrupted classes on the Wits campus, and the protest escalated into violence on Thursday and Friday. Students caused property damage and engaged in looting in the Johannesburg city centre campus and its surroundings. As a result, the university suspended multiple students who were identified from footage of confrontations with security personnel.
The SRC has declared a “state of emergency” until their demands are met. Their demands include:
- Allowing all students who owe R150,000 or less to register for the 2023 academic year.
- Waiving the R10,000 upfront fee for residential placement.
- Allocating an additional R30 million to an accommodation fund for homeless students.
- Scrapping the NSFAS R45,000 cap for residences.
- Allowing all students who receive the Hardship Fund to register without paying the residual amount.
Nzimande attempted to resolve these demands on Friday. Accordingly, the Department of Higher Education and Training (DHET), USAf, and Vice-Chancellors from all affected institutions will establish a committee to consider solutions for those impacted by the R45,000 cap. The committee will urgently meet next week to examine cases and practical solutions.
NSFAS has clarified that new eligibility criteria will apply with considerations in 2024 for students requiring an overall 55% pass rate. Additionally, all NSFAS-funded students will be registered by all institutions without paying an upfront fee.
The DHET and USAf have reaffirmed their commitment to implementing all previous agreements with the South African Union of Students (SAUS). The institutions will urgently convene meetings through forums and student leadership to deal with outstanding registration challenges.
However, Nzimande expressed concern about the violent nature of some of the protests and strongly condemned instances of violent student protests. He urged students to return to class and called on student leaders who have withdrawn from engagements with management to return to those engagements. On Saturday night, the Wits SRC announced they had a meeting with the management during the day and received some promising commitments. They plan to share the outcomes at their mass meeting on Sunday at 8:00 pm, along with a plan for the next week.