Eastcape Midlands College campuses shut down


Students demand their NSFAS funds

Photo of protesters
Students shut down Eastcape Midlands College in Uitenhage on Monday, saying they have not received their NSFAS funds. Photo: Thamsanqa Mbovane

Ongoing protest by students at Eastcape Midlands College in Uitenhage, Eastern Cape, has led to the shutdown of all eight campuses on Monday. Students burnt tyres and blocked the gates to the Uitenhage head office.

School principal Charl van Heerden, issued a notice saying: “You are hereby notified that all academic activities, except national examinations for Report 191, will be suspended on Monday, 30 July 2018.”

The college students started to protest on Thursday. Students say they have struggled to access their NSFAS (National Students Financial Aid Scheme) allowances.

A student who rents a flat in Uitenhage said, “Its four months that I am not getting the NSFAS allowance for transport and accommodation. I am threatened by my landlord … I survive in this situation through my bigger siblings who lend me the money. Some of my classmates …. have stopped going to school because of their transport money that never reached their bank account.”

On Thursday afternoon, students used rubbish bins to block the gate at the head office in Uitenhage and also burnt tyres. College staff had to be escorted home after work by police.

Elmari van der Merwe, a spokesperson at the college, said, “We were held hostage by the students demanding NSFAS funds.”

On Friday morning, students continued to burn tyres at the main gate in Durban Street, and sang: “Sifun’imali” (We want money).

When the fire truck arrived a student shouted: “We have other matches!”

Another student shouted: “We are used to getting bullets! We are not afraid of the water!”

Soon after SRC member Sivuyisiwe Rubu emerged from the head office and approached the singing students: “Guys! Guys! … They [the management] say if we keep burning the tyres, our talks will collapse and be held elsewhere. They feel uncomfortable about this… So please, whatever we do, let’s not vandalise.”

The protesting students calmed down and waited for the outcome of the discussion.

On Monday morning, Rubu said, “Negotiations resumed and students have come in big numbers to be around us [the SRC]. The management is blaming the delay to talks on the protest, saying they were exposed to danger as students keep burning tyres.”

In order to get NSFAS funding students have to show an 80% attendance record. But Rubu said, “Some of the students could not qualify for the [NSFAS] allowances because of not making it to school everyday. The problem was the lack of transportation funds coming through.” The student protesters are therefore asking for this requirement to be waived.

A student at Thanduxolo campus, KwaNobuhle, who refused to be named, said she often signed papers that had no information about how much she would get from NSFAS.

“On the notice board I often see my name appearing, but when I sign for the monthly R900 allowance, I get R500 instead. They let us put our signatures in blank spaces and then when we get the money, we get less,” she said.

SRC president Siyasanga Majali said, “Students have decided enough is enough. They have been accusing us of dipping our hands on the NSFAS money. We tried many times to talk to the management but they refused.”

NSFAS promised to comment but had not done so by the time of publication.

CORRECTION: The article originally gave monthly NSFAS allowance amounts that were out by an order of magnitude.

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TOPICS:  Tertiary Education

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