Students take protest to the streets


The #FeesMustFall movement held protests at the University of the Western Cape (UWC) throughout last week, prompting the university’s management to tighten security around entrance points, barring media and non-students.

The movement stands in solidarity with workers who want an end to outsourcing.

On Wednesday February 24, the students planned to take the protest to Parliament where the Minister of Finance, Pravin Gordhan, delivered his budget speech, but were stopped by security and police before they made their way onto the concourse at the Cape Town train station.

An email sent out by the university’s executive management on Monday, February 22, had urged them to stop protests.

Then on Thursday the university held a meeting with the leaders of the #FeesMustFall movement.

While the meeting was on, workers were trying to gain entry into the university from the Unibell train station, but were stopped by security guards clad in black golf shirts, cargo pants and shields.

Northern News was turned away, with one security guard saying the media and non-students weren’t allowed.

UWC’s communication team formally apologised to the Northern News for being barred from entering the premises on Thursday.

Luthando Thyalibongo, UWC spokesman, said: “Students from other campuses were not allowed on campus during the protest and had to make prior arrangements in order to visit the university. This is due to students from other universities coming in to join the protesters in vandalising the campus. However, parents and family members dropped off students as normal and picked them up.”

At the meeting with the rector and vice-chancellor, Tyrone Pretorius, protesting workers were told that the university’s finances were inadequate to meet their demands.

The workers said all they were demanding was the money given to the outsourced companies that hired them. The workers’ spokeswoman, Nonkumbuzo Ndinxi, denied they were demanding a R10 000 a month salary, contrary to media reports and “claims by management”.

Ms Ndinxi said they expected the government funding to universities to also help the institutions with insourcing. “They told us they can’t go over the R2 000 (a month) they pay us,” she said. “They hear us, but they pretend they don’t.”

#FeesMustFall leaders addressed the workers at the Unibell train station on Thursday and again the next morning in front of the main entrance. The students said they didn’t want their names mentioned because they feared victimisation. They said they expected the university to deal with their financial shortfalls and start insourcing workers, especially after the government announced at the budget speech last week a committment of R16bn in the higher education sector.

Northern News asked the national treasury spokeswoman, Phumza Macanda, how much UWC was getting, how these funds are split up between universities and whether these funds included securing insourced services.

She did not get back to us by the time we went to print.

Mr Thyalibongo said the budget allocation had not been processed yet and didn’t know how much would be committed to UWC.

On Friday, UWC claimed the #FeesMustFall students vandalised the institute’s property by spray-painting “racist” words on one of the walls.

In response to the vandalism, Mr Thyalibongo said the university is “disgusted at the racist statements and hate speech that have been discovered all over campus (on Friday morning)”.

“We condemn these cowardly acts committed under the cover of darkness.

“The cost of vandalism in 2015 was approximately R20 million. Some windows and doors were broken this week and graffiti sprayed on campus buildings,” Mr Thyalibongo said.

“UWC remains one of the most diverse campuses in South Africa. We are an intellectual home for students from diverse backgrounds, race and gender.

“Any attempt to threaten our unity, by inciting division of our students and staff along racial lines will not be tolerated.” He said the university was investigating the incident.

The UWC SRC on Monday February 29 launched the university’s Ikamva Lethu (Our Future) campaign.

“The campaign aims to assist poor students who are struggling to secure enough funding to continue with their studies. The SRC has already secured R2 million from the UWC executive management as seed funding, which followed the SRC’S initial pledge of R350 000 from their allocated budget for 2016,” Sibulele Siko-Shosha, a member of the SRC, said in a statement.

“We encourage all role-players to support this cause and change the lives of our students – and our society .”