Wits students vow to continue protest against financial exclusion

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Protesting Wits University students say they will continue to mobilise students from other higher learning institutions to fight financial exclusion.

Students blocked off the busy Empire Road in Johannesburg Tuesday morning causing a major traffic jam.

“Today we have taken to the streets now as a coalition of organisations that have come together as the Wits Coalition for Free Education together with the Wits SRC, PY, EFF Student Command because we are all sick and tired of our institution not taking us seriously,” says Wits SRC president Mpendulo Mfeka.

The students say they have had enough and are already mobilising students from other institutions to join in their fight. They want Wits University to allow students to register for the 2021 academic year regardless of the amount they owe in historical debt.

“When the year began, we had 8 142 students who were at risk of financial exclusion.  As it stands there are 6 332 who are at risk of financial exclusion. What this means, these students will not be allowed to come back into the university even though they’ve performed well because of their academic state. In practical terms, it means if you do not have the money to register you must go home.”

Protest over registration issues:

Traffic disruption

Traffic was disrupted after students blocked the busy Empire Road opposite the Wits Braamfontein campus with rocks and burning tyres.  After police dispersed the protestors, they moved to the Wits Medical School in Parktown where police say they tried to forcefully gain entry.

Law enforcement officials fired rubber bullets to disperse the students, resulting in several of them being injured. Among the injured is Wits SRC member Gaby Farber.

“Today majority of us got fired with rubber bullets without warning. We were right there at Med campus, singing peacefully, not throwing anything, not destroying anything, and then they went without warning and shot us.”

Injured students say they did not receive medical help: 

Gauteng police spokesperson Mavela Masondo says police had no choice but to intervene. “We found that the protesters now are forcing entry into the premises and as the police we had to protect the property and the people that were in those premises. Protesters were asked to disperse and when they did not want to cooperate we had to use rubber bullets to disperse them. One person was arrested and police have opened a case of public violence for investigation.”

Financial assistance 

Wits University says it has made concessions in respect to funding of students in need. R20 million has been made available for students facing financial hardship, so they can still register to study this year.

The University says those who owe R120  000 or less can apply for this fund. It says about 27 000 of the university’s 37 500 students are on some form of financial aid.

“Wits has registered over 95% of its students. We have had about 12 00 applications to the Wits hardship fund and the majority of these students have been assisted,” says Wits spokesperson Shirona Patel.

The students have vowed to continue their protest until their demands are addressed: 

The university says it is committed to helping students facing financial hardships but it is not able to give free education to all students.