UWC protesters demand classes stop

Students say university must first clear all debt and registration fees

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Photo of student protest
University f the Western Cape students and workers protest in the student centre. Photo: Ashleigh Furlong

Student protesters, known as #UWCFeesWillFall, are calling on the University of Western Cape (UWC) to suspend the academic programme so that the processes of clearing of debt, registration and residence placement can be completed.

This afternoon, protesters handed over a memorandum to UWC director of legal services Shervaan Rajie, giving the university until the close of work to respond.

‘Classes have commenced, yet there are still large masses of students who are yet to be cleared [of debt], registered or placed [in residence]. This continuing process of exclusion based on one’s financial capacity is totally rejected by the UWC Fees Will Fall movement,’ they wrote in the memorandum.

The protest is part of the #UWCFeesWillFall’s #AntiExclusion campaign that seeks to abolish registration fees and historical debt, ensuring that all students who were in residence previously are given a place this year.

The students also demand that empty rooms in Kovacs, a private residence, make up the accommodation shortfall.

“The university … made a promise that they will talk about the issue of free registration and historical debt being cleared, but instead we are seeing students … being asked to pay R4,800,” said #UWCFeesMustFall member Monde Nonabe.

“The ‘haves’ have commenced with classes and the ‘have nots’ have been queuing for more than two weeks in the long lines. They are trying to get residence. They are trying to get cleared [of their debt],” he said.

He said all classes must be stopped. “The only offices that need to be open is the office of registration and office of residence. We cannot commence [studies] when the house is not in order,” he said.

The memorandum claims the situation is “the fault of the poor administrative process”.

UWC spokesperson Luthando Tyhalibongo said that “more than 85% of students that are supposed to register for the year have registered”, and that all first year students have registered.

He also said that the university is not prohibiting students from attending classes if they are still in the process of registering.

“The university is assisting those students who are currently in the process of registering. Some of these students have financial issues and they have also been assisted. There is a committee dealing with extreme cases. We have encouraged our students to contact our student credit management. The NSFAS [National Student Financial Aid Scheme] students have been dealt with because they don’t need to pay the upfront payment. Students with bursaries also don’t need to pay the upfront payment for this year,” he told GroundUp.

One student who only gave the name Mfundo, told GroundUp that he was unable to register because his academic transcript had been blocked; he was told this was because he had a “disciplinary case pending”.

He says he has never been charged with anything by the university, nor was he arrested last year.

Mfundo said that when he went to the Proctor’s office on Monday, he was told that the restriction on his transcript was an error. But today, he is still unable to register. He believes that the blocking of his transcript is due to his participation in the protests last year.

“I am being barred from registering,” he said.

Tyhalibongo said the only reason a person should not be able to see their results is because they have outstanding debt.

But Mfundo said he did not have debt as he was on a bursary.

#UWCFeesWillFall protesters claim there are 80 students at the university with no form of accommodation, sleeping in residence dining halls, the soccer stadium and in toilets on campus.

Nonabe said that some students without residence don’t have immediate family in the Western Cape, meaning that they had nowhere to go. “[We are] Calling for an immediate relief for the university to provide a residence for those black children,” he said

#UWCFeesWillFall also called on all churches and supportive staff members to come forward if they have accommodation.

When asked about the accommodation issue at UWC, Tyhalibongo said that “there is limited space at residences at all universities” and that the issue was “not a UWC issue but a national issue”.

“Students who are eligible to stay in residences for this year have been allocated spaces,” he said. Students who were not able to be accommodated at a UWC residence are staying in public accommodation that is recommended by the university.

In a letter of response, the UWC Executive said it cannot delay the academic year any further. It states that 11,574 students have been financially cleared and registered and that there are “no longer significant numbers [of students] waiting to be cleared’.

#UWCFeesWillFall had said that should the response from the university management reject their demands, they will regroup and decide on a way forward.

Photo of student protest in student centre
Shervaan Rajie, UWC’s legal services director, signs the memorandum while Monde Nonabe sings next to him. Photo: Ashleigh Furlong

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TOPICS:  Tertiary Education

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