Wits students protest at Empire Road entrance about lack of accommodation

A group of students have gathered at the Empire Road entrance to the campus.
A group of students have gathered at the Empire Road entrance to the campus.
Image: Supplied/Wits

A video clip of students sleeping in the library at the University of the Witwatersrand (Wits) was shared by the Student Representative Council (SRC) on Wednesday, as it staged a demonstration demanding immediate action.

A group of students have gathered at the Empire Road entrance to the campus.

“When we resort to other measures, we do so because we have exhausted all other forms of engagement. A storm is coming. It cannot be that under our leadership students are subjected to these inhumane conditions. Our students will be accommodated!” the SRC tweeted.

Security was present amid reports that students were disrupting bus operations.

Higher education minister Blade Nzimande on Tuesday addressed student housing demands and violent student protests at the start of the 2020 academic year.

He told parliament that government was hoping for help from the private sector to resolve the housing issue, even as it rolled out a range of projects.

Through the Student Housing Infrastructure Programme, he said government was developing large projects comprising 7,273 new beds at a number of universities. In addition, six housing projects were in the pipeline, “where feasibility studies will be undertaken in 2020".

He had also reached agreement with all tertiary institutions to accredit private accommodation where vetted and proven to be suitable for student accommodation.

“It will be necessary in 2020 to establish a forum where private accommodation provision, norms and standards, costs, safety, university accreditation processes and the link with NSFAS funding can be discussed. This may have to be supported by further research and engagement,” said the minister.

“This will be assisted by the R64bn announced by the [President Cyril Ramaphosa] in Sona (state of the nation address), with the aim of raising a further R64bn through private sector participation over the next 10 years. This will take us a long way towards addressing student housing needs.”

Nzimande denounced violence that had marred some student protests this year.

“The beginning of this academic year has also been marked by some violent student protests at a number of universities and TVET Colleges in the country, including, but not only restricted to, the universities of KwaZulu-Natal, North West, Fort Hare, Orbit College and Tshwane South College, and, of late, University of Zululand and Tshwane University of Technology,” he told MPs.

“In all these cases, my department has been working with the institutions to address the specific problems and challenges in these institutions and we are hopeful that sooner rather than later all these should be resolved.

“As a government, however, we strongly condemn incidents of violence in some of these campuses. No matter how legitimate student grievances can be there is no justification for violence and damage to property. Violence and destruction is no longer protest, but counter revolution.”

Nzimande pledged that government and institutions were ready to engage with the tertiary community to resolve problems, adding “we urge all to seek to address problems constructively and peacefully”.

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