The SRC, along with political student societies at UP, expressed grievances as the academic year began. They expressed disapproval at how the university handled NSFAS queries and academic and financial exclusions. Several marches have been held to prepare a memorandum to deliver to Vice Chancellor and Principal, Professor Kupe, and in solidarity with Wits students protesting in Johannesburg.
UP announces registration updates
On 10 March, UP announced various measures to aid students facing registration and financial issues in a bid to ensure that “no student is left behind”.
UP, in noting the delays in registration faced by students, most notably those funded by NSFAS, decided to extend the registration deadline to 31 March. The university has also exempted NSFAS-funded students from making the initial registration payment and has made available approximately R20 million in bursary funds to assist students in financial need. UP has also set revised dates for payment, extending the second payment and the final payment deadlines to 30 June and 30 September respectively, and has reduced the historical debt payment required for registration from 50% to 40% – only for 2021. UP called on students who have been financially burdened in light of the COVID-19 pandemic to reach out to the university via email, to email@example.com. za, to make financial arrangements.
UP SRC march to DHET
Following the university’s announcement, the UP SRC posted on social media platforms about a march set to take place on 11 March from Es’kia Mphahlele Drive and Struben Street in Pretoria. The post said that “we as students of the University of Pretoria, refuse to be victims of this injustice and blatant oppression of young people”. The SRC told PDBY that the march was also a token of solidarity with Wits students who have engaged in protest action from 8 March. The march began at 08:00 and students were escorted by the Metro Police to the Department of Higher Education and Training (DHET). SRC president, Lerato Ndlovu, demanded that the Deputy Minister receive their memorandum and handed it over on behalf of students.
EFFSC UP hosts a mass meeting and drafts a memorandum
On 15 March, a group of students, led by the EFFSC UP, gathered for a mass meeting at the Hatfield Campus Prospect Gate to voice concerns and address issues regarding the university’s handling of financial exclusions and the issues faced by NSFAS-funded students, with the EFFSC UP labelling this as the commodification of education. Joined by a group of students and members of the SRC, the mass meeting saw the drafting of a memorandum, which included demands to UP to waive the registration fee, revise academic exclusion critieria, allow 100% of TuksRes students to return, make study material available online, review accommodation criteria and make computers available to students on campus, among others.
The memorandum was to be handed to Prof. Kupe on 16 March. The EFFSC UP also heard calls for a possible total shutdown of the university if UP management does not deliver a response within 24 hours of the memorandum being handed over.
SRC continues marches
The SRC and a group of students met at the Prospect Street entrance on 16 March. PDBY spoke to Ndlovu, seeking clarity on the gathering. Ndlovu stated that “the purpose of tonight is just to have a meeting with all students and further finalise our memorandum of demands which will be submitted to the Vice Chancellor tomorrow”. She further stated that the meeting sought to invite more students from different spaces to join the march on 17 March to meet the Vice Chancellor. Ndlovu asserted that the SRC “demand[s] that he comes and fetches the memorandum”. Ndlovu explained that the SRC were told to send an email to the Vice Chancellor as per procedure. She asserted that she does not think it would be convenient to send the memorandum via email and hence planned to march to the Engineering Gate on 17 March. Representatives from SASCO, EFFSC and Faculty House Chairpersons were amongst those present in the mass meeting. EFFSC UP chairperson, Sthembiso Nkosi stated that failure to meet the demands stipulated in the memorandum would result in student demonstrations in front of university gates, thereby restricting access to campus.
Rikus Delport, Director of Institutional Advancement at UP, stated that “we will do everything we can to ensure that [UP] achieve[s] financial inclusion as far as possible, while ensuring sustainability”. Delport added that “while [UP] respects the right of students to protest, we encourage them to do it peacefully, within the confines of the law, by following the proper processes and complying with all the COVID-19 health and safety protocols”.
The SRC and other gathered students at the Prospect Street Entrance began to block traffic at the corner of Prospect and Festival Street, directing traffic to find an alternative route. Some students were seen seated across the zebra crossing of the road while waving away traffic. SRC deputy Secretary, Thandi Mabala, told PDBY that the purpose of blocking traffic was to “get momentum going and demand attention.” Police arrived in the scene and monitored the mass meeting.
On 17 March, the SRC led a sit in at Enterprises@UP building entrance, barring entry and exit from the building. On 18 March, at 12:00, Prof. Kupe received a memorandum of demands from the SRC. The memorandum set 23 March as the deadline for a response from the university, and requests that all academic activity be paused until a solution is agreed upon.
Photo: Tshepang Rihlampfu