Arrested Wits students off the hook as NPA decides not to prosecute

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The National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) has decided not to prosecute the seven students who were arrested during yesterday’s protest at Wits University in Braamfontein, Johannesburg.

The students were part of a SRC-led group that has been protesting against financial exclusion at the institution.

They made a brief appearance in the Hillbrow Magistrate’s Court, where they were expected to be charged with public violence.

The students say about 7 000 of their colleagues face an uncertain future as the university refuses to let them register.

The university has brought nothing new to the table, says SRC:

However, Wits University has disputed the Student Representative Council’s claims.

University spokesperson, Shirona Patel, says that number reflects all the students who owe Wits money for the past seven years.

“The SRC has been putting out numbers saying 6 000 to 7 000 students are at risk of being financially excluded. Just to put in context that these are the 6 000 to 7 000 people who have ever owed the university money over the last seven years and it’s made up of a number of people, some who’ve dropped out, some who are academically excluded, some who lost their bursaries in funding and some who genuinely cannot afford to pay their own way,” she says.

Wits University Vice-Chancellor, Professor Zeblon Vilakazi, says that almost 70% of students who’ve applied for financial assistance have been registered for the 2021 academic year.

Vilakazi says they’ve spent more than R300 million of their own money to help students to register.

He says the university is dealing with student applications for funding on a case-by-case basis.

“We have had 1 200 applications for assistance of which 750 have been registered. That’s almost close 70% of those that have been registered and we are working on systematically working through that number on a case-by-case basis to ensure that whilst addressing that particular pressure of students, we do not take decisions that impede on the sustainability of the university,” adds Vilakazi.

Wits is currently sitting at R1 billion student debt says Prof Vilakazi:

Additional funding

Meanwhile, government has announced an additional funding for the National Student Financial Aid Scheme to address the funding shortfall for the 2021 academic year.

Although government says student protests didn’t force it to release more funding, Higher Education Minister Dr Blade Nzimande says they have agreed to prioritise funding for all deserving first year students.

Minister of Higher Education briefs the media on tertiary education funding: