NW students up the ante
The university’s Mafikeng Campus is keeping its doors shut amid protesters’ refusals to back down
Following protests over crippling teacher shortages at schools in Port Elizabeth’s northern areas, which saw parents shut them down this week, a prominent ANC member of the provincial legislature (MPL) has opened a criminal case against a department run by his party.
ANC MPL Christian Martin, a former MEC of public works and chairperson of the social development portfolio committee in the Eastern Cape legislature, opened a case of intimidation at the Gelvandale Police Station on Wednesday against the education department – after a week of no education at 56 schools.
On Friday, Martin told City Press: “Yes, I did lay a charge against the department. The schools were closed by principals and school governing body members.
“On numerous occasions I went to the department and told them they must do something about the situation.
“After many meetings, I decided to open a case
Staff and students fear that North West University’s Mafikeng Campus will not be able to open in the first week of February, amid protests for free university education and against the exclusion of students who cannot afford their fees. The university has forced all students to register online after they brought it to a standstill this week. Security was upped, and students were sent home.
Money is tight for Mahikeng students: 5 058 – half of the student body on that campus – applied for funding from the national student financial aid scheme (Nsfas), but only 1 476 received it. Of the 2 687 first year students who applied, only 391 were approved.
Student leaders are furious and branded those who registered online “sellouts”.
Management responded by obtaining an interdict against protesting students in the high court in Mmabatho to prevent any further disruption.
Students’ representative council (SRC) president Benz Mabengwane said: “Those who register online must also attend classes online. We are not about to stop unless the university shows some commitment and allows all students to register. Only then can we all start learning.
“Other universities are working together with student leaders towards relief for students and to avoid any exclusions. We are not getting anything close to that from our management, which only wants to register those who can afford [it], caring less about the poor, and continue teaching only those with deep pockets.”
Mabengwane said the SRC and other student bodies had held several meetings with management in which they presented a number of proposals, but were “ignored”.
Among them was a suggestion that about R70 million allocated to the university by Nsfas be shared among all applicants and that the university approach government for more financial assistance later.
They also wanted half the SRC’s allocated budget to be earmarked for financially needy and academically deserving students, who could not register because of debt incurred in previous academic years.
“Management has rejected all those proposals,” said Mabengwane.
“Management claims not to have funds to help the needy and academically deserving students, but there seem to be enough funds available for lawsuits.”
Mabengwane said management had told the SRC the university was owed about R117 million in fees, and “they are not prepared to negotiate with the students on finances” and “threatened to remove us from residence and even cut the water supply”.
University spokesperson Koos Degenaar said the institution could shut its doors in a year if students were allowed to study for free, saying funds were needed to run the institution.
“We have had several meetings with the SRC since last week regarding fees ... they want free education, but we cannot [afford it],” he said.
Degenaar said registration was going well online and would continue until Friday, January 29.
He said additional private security had been arranged for when classes began the following Monday. the northern areas and it breaks my heart that she is missing out on school time.
“But we are doing what must be done to secure a decent future for our children and society,” said Draai.
“The fact that Martin opens a case against his own government proves the gravity of the situation,” he said. DA provincial education spokesperson Edmund van Vuuren asked why the ANC was opening criminal cases against themselves.
“Is MPL Martin admitting his party has failed the people of the northern areas by not providing the necessary human resources, therefore implying his party should not be supported because of nondelivery? Provincial government spokesperson Sizwe Kupelo declined to comment on Martin’s case, saying a multidisciplinary team had been appointed to look at the education problems in the northern areas.
He said that during Masualle’s visit to the northern areas last week, “a number of challenges were raised, including teachers who go on very long sick leave”.