Walter Sisulu students evicted from campus

Students have many grievances, but their leadership is fractured

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Photo of Philasande Ngcobo.
Pasma secretary Philasande Ngcobo is one of the student leaders at Walter Sisulu University’s Butterworth campus. Photo by Mangqulo Nyakombi.

Walter Sisulu University Ibika Campus in Butterworth was closed on Wednesday after students were evicted from the university’s premises on Monday. This followed a student occupation on the campus which had entered its second week.

The occupation resulted in supplementary exams being postponed. It is still unclear when they will be written.

The students are led by South African Students’ Congress (Sasco), Students Christian Organisation (SCO) and the Pan Africanist Student Movement of Azania (Pasma). Their demands are:

  • Students with historical debt must be allowed to write supplementary exams and final exams, and also be given their academic results.
  • The registration process must be explained.
  • The number of students the university takes this year must be increased.
  • There need to be more lectures and more lecturers must be hired.
  • New residences must be built and old ones must be maintained.

Students also accuse the student affairs department of being unprofessional.

A statement issued by the university Interim Vice-chancellor, Khaya Mfenyana, on Facebook said the institution had appealed for the normalisation of operations at the Butterworth Campus.

He said the appeal was followed by another attempt on 22 January to constitute a Students Representative Council (SRC) for the campus, but that attempt, like many others before, failed to yield any positive outcome.

Mfenyana said the university had to close its premises because of the protest, adding that property has been destroyed.

The campus was also the site of protest action last year.

Students wait at the Butterworth campus. They have been locked out. Photo by Mangqulo Nyakombi.

On Wednesday we visited the university and met student leaders in Butterworth. They were organising bread, fruit juice and bread for students.

Pasma secretary Philasande Ngcobo said they had asked local churches to accommodate students until the university’s management agrees to have a meeting with them. “We been asking for donations from companies and local shops so we can buy food. Some of the students are here to check their status of registration and they do not have money for food.”

“Lots of things are not going right in this campus and we demand the management to sit with us in order for these issues to be resolved,” he said. In particular he cited debt as a problem.

There are poor students who do not have money to pay their way through university, he said. “Most of them already received an sms from NSFAS rejecting their application for funds.”

He suggested that management should draw up agreements with students to repay loans once they have found jobs. He said there is no way students can find jobs without certificates or diplomas.

Ngcobo also criticised the university for limiting new applicants. “It is not nice to see other students being turned back home because the university is full. Every child has a right to education.”

He also mentioned sewerage problems at residences. “This is something that has been going on for a very long now. We want it to be addressed,” said Ngcobo.

We went to look at residences and the sewerage smell was indeed unbearable. Residences were guarded by armed security guards who prevented students from going inside.

Photo of dilapidated roof in residence bathroom.
This residence bathroom was in a bad state. The smell at the residences is unbearable. Photo by Mangqulo Nyakombi.

Ngcobo said that the university does not care about the students and protest action is the only way for them to be heard.

Explaining why the campus has no SRC, Siphelo Mkhuzangwe of SCO said Ibika campus has three political parties, Sasco, Pasma and SCO. He said at last year’s elections both Pasma and Sasco won three seats and SCO won one seat.

“SCO and Pasma had an agreement to join forces to fight Sasco because we were tired of the corruption we were seeing at the Department of Student Affairs. Sasco challenged us and took the matter to court. The number of seats were lowered from seven to six. The issue was then who’s going to lose a seat,” Mkhuzangwe explained. [GroundUp has been unable to verify these details.]

A new applicant from Kwazulu-Natal said she was at the campus to check if she was accepted. She said she cannot go back home because she spent a lot of money coming to Butterworth.

“When I called the university I was told to come to the school to check if I’m accepted or not. But when I arrived here there was an [occupation] and I can only hope the it ends soon and so I can register,” she said.

WSU spokesperson Yonela Tukwayo said upon resumption of the 2016 academic year a group of students blocked the entrance to the university, preventing staff and students from gaining access to the premises for unclear reasons.

“Following these unprovoked activities, a memorandum containing a list of grievances was submitted by the Butterworth campus’s three student political structures; namely SCO, Pasma and Sasco only on 18 January 2016. This memorandum received immediate consideration from the University,” said Tukwayo, adding that the campus and university management are currently in a meeting with the leaders from the three organisations.

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