19 March 2021
Students have shut down Rhodes University since Monday, bringing the campus to a halt all week. They have blocked access roads and entrances for all staff and workers.
People have generally decided not to cross the picket line and are staying home.
The student protest is under the banner #Nationalshutdown of all universities. Students across the country are demanding free tertiary education, that historic debt be scrapped, and that all students be registered for the academic year.
Bongani Rhalane, a worker at the university, said she was unaware of the shutdown on Monday and went to work as normal. She was surprised when she was turned away by students. “We came back home and will hear from our supervisors when to go back,” she said.
A worker in the catering department said on Thursday, “We are just sitting at home. The students don’t allow anyone to enter the university … You can’t risk your life in such a situation. ” she said.
A student in residence at the campus said, “At the moment no kitchen, cleaning or other ground staff members have been permitted to be on campus. They’ve pretty much received a holiday. Cleaning supplies have been supplied to the residences and the House Committee members and wardens have been distributing them accordingly. Students are doing cleaning of showers by themselves. … The Health Care Centre is operating.”
Rhodes University spokesperson Velisile Bukula told GroundUp that the Prince Alfred Road entrance to the university and the Drostdy Arch entrance in High Street fall under the municipality. He said the university will not expose anyone, students and staff, to risk.
“We are working from home. Workers and visitors are refused entry into the university … The singing and converging by some students in tight clusters … poses a severe health concern for students, staff and the community of Makhanda.”
However, Bukula said the academic programme has started and continues to be delivered online. He praised the the level of student participation in the various online academic activities, saying it has been impressive.
“We need to utilise time wisely to give everyone a chance to complete the year successfully. Not all our students can participate and apply themselves in the same way if they had to leave the university [campus] and the facilities offered,” said Bukula.
SRC Secretary General Michelle Makokove said, “The university stance of business as usual is a complete disregard of the impediments that prevent students from engaging in their academic activities. The university has not been clear with the SRC on steps taken to address the NSFAS funding challenges.”
The university this week said it has made every effort to assist students who met the admission requirements and have applied for NSFAS funding but not yet received the outcome of their NSFAS applications. Allowances would be given to eligible students only.
But the students say no one should be excluded. On Wednesday, SRC President Leboghang Nkambule said they demand “to have all students cleared and registered and that is a primary goal students have”.