On 10 April, the thirteen students from UP who embarked on the #Walk4Acces campaign finished their journey at the Union Buildings in Pretoria.Here the walkers submitted a list of grievances to a representative within the Department of Higher Education and Training (DHET), Director-General Gwebinkundla Fellix Qonde. The campaign began on 21 March from the parliament building in Cape Town. The 20-day campaign was an effort to address growing student crises such as historical debts and accommodation, among other issues. The aim of the campaign was to get every South African to donate R2 per day for 20 days and raise a target of approximately R4 million. This initiative was not only led by UP students but also the Elim Full Gospel Church and supported by UP’s Student Representative Council (SRC). The walkers, along with students from different political parties, departed from Prospect Street at 11:15 am and arrived at the Union Buildings at 12 midday, singing revolutionary songs along the way. There was a presence of security officials including South African Police Services (SAPS), Tshwane Metropolitan Police Department (TMPD) and the UP Security, who kept an eye on the walkers and ensured that they arrived at the Union Buildings safely.
The greater community, including Grant Thistlewhite, rector of St Wilfrid’s Anglican Church in Pretoria, came to express solidarity in welcoming the walkers. Rector Thistlewhite said to PDBY, “we need to try and be proactive in working with the community that is being denied access, particularly historical debt”. PDBY interviewed one of the walkers Mathias Shunmugam. Shunmugam said that this campaign was the first of many and that, although their focus is tuition fee, they will look into issues such as accommodation and textbooks. Speaking of the walk itself, Shunmugam said “it was very difficult, it was very challenging. It was long, it was tiring. […] But we were accommodated by churches, by people at night along the way and the way that we were accepted, the way that we were welcomed the whole reception […] it was one of the greatest experiences that anyone could ever have”.
As the walkers arrived at Union Buildings, they were welcomed by the non-profit organisation Gift of Givers who supported the walkers from Cape Town to Pretoria. PDBY interviewed the head of the team Emily Thomas. She said, “hunger is a real issue among our students”. Thomas says that they take the issue seriously and wish to tackle the plights of students head-on through assisting where they can.
The list of grievances was read to the audience by Melisa Ndlovu, a graduate in UP’s Geology department. Issues highlighted include the loss of integrity and credibility of NSFAS, a call for multilateral stakeholder intervention and that student accommodation be capped at R2000 per month. There were demands that the competition commission must subsidise all student accommodation and that all vacant buildings and flats be turned into student accommodation. Finally, on behalf of the students, Ndlovu said that “we call for scrapping of all historical student debts”. Ndlovu said students propose for a consultative discussion and will be waiting for a response.
Director-General Qonde acknowledged receiving the list of grievances. He addressed the audience, saying that the walkers have done everyone proud and that this is for a marvellous cause. After the Director-General had finished addressing the audience, UP’s Vice Principal of Student Affairs and Accommodation, Professor Museya, spoke. Prof. Museya said “from the side of the University we truly appreciate the effort. This is a noble initiative and we truly appreciate the work done by the Elim church.” Prof. Museya promised that the university will assist where possible.
Image: Ernest Nyamutsamba