NW stu­dents up the ante

The univer­sity’s Mafikeng Cam­pus is keep­ing its doors shut amid pro­test­ers’ re­fusals to back down

CityPress - - News - LUBA­BALO NGCUKANA luba­balo.ngcukana@city­press.co.za POLOKO TAU poloko.tau@city­press.co.za

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”.

Richard

Draai

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