Wits would go 'bankrupt' if it meets demands of protesting students

The protesting students have made two main demands: they would like all returning students to be given accommodation or funding for accommodation.
The protesting students have made two main demands: they would like all returning students to be given accommodation or funding for accommodation.
Image: Moeletsi Mabe

The University of Witwatersrand has warned that it could collapse if it were to meet the accommodation and historical debt demands made by protesting students.

“The protesting students have made two main demands: they would like all returning students to be given accommodation or funding for accommodation, and they would like all returning students with historic debt (those who owe R100,000 or less) to be registered immediately," said Wits spokesperson Buhle Zuma.

“Unfortunately, these are two demands that the university cannot meet if the university is to remain financially sustainable.”

Zuma's comments come after a number of students embarked on a two-day protest calling for management to make provision for additional accommodation and extended registration periods.

On Tuesday, the university beefed up security on its main campus. Several videos of security guards pushing and allegedly assaulting female students emerged.

Although refusing to comment on whether or not action would be taken against the guards, the university said it was investigating videos of students who disrupted classes and warned that they could be suspended.

“We are saying students must register [and] they must be housed. Then we are going to cease fire and go to class,” said SRC president Sisanda Aluta Mbolekwa, one of the leaders of the protest.

However, Zuma said the university had 6,200 beds that had been allocated to students and was working with external service providers and partners to secure additional accommodation.

The protesting students have vowed to extend the shutdown until an agreement is reached with management.

Zuma said the university had set up a Wits Hardship Fund worth R12m, which had been allocated to students who were in urgent need of assistance. The fund had assisted 187 students in the last two weeks, awarded funding to about 80 students for urgent accommodation, and is currently evaluating another 200 other applications that have come through in the last five days.

In terms of the hunger grievance, the university said it had made provision through the Wits Food Bank, Gift of the Givers and the Wits Food Programme to ensure that students had access to food.   

“About 1,000 students are assisted through these programmes on a daily basis,” added Zuma.  

X