Late Wednesday afternoon, chaos erupted at the University of the Western Cape (UWC) after police used teargas and stun grenades to disperse protestors. Protests ensued after students were left disappointed when university management would not meet with them on Wednesday, a meeting reportedly scheduled on Monday.
In a statement, UWC management stated that it would only hold smaller meetings between Fees Must Fall representatives, the Student Representative Council (SRC) and other student bodies. The institution further denied that it had agreed to meet with students on Wednesday.
Following calls for answers, management yesterday released a statement outlining its response to a list 40 demands that were tabled by protesting students.
UWC spokesperson, Luthando Tyhalibongo confirmed that on Monday the university management attended a meeting that was hosted by the SRC, in which a preliminary report citing the list of student demands was tabled.
He says that the students listed a number of demands, which range from concerns that can be dealt with internally to concerns that require the intervention of government and other stakeholders.
“60 per cent on the internal list has already been dealt with; when it comes to students who have outstanding debt, they are allowed to graduate and they will receive a letter of completion when they graduate. But, they won’t receive their transcripts. Potential employers and other universities can receive their transcripts,” Tyhalibongo stated.
With regards to concerns relating to limited accommodation, Tyhalibongo confirmed that the university has purchased land in Bellville South, Belhar and Kuils River, which will be used to expand student accommodation.
“There is a block of flats that we recently purchased in Kuils River and we have recently received a donation for another block of flats in Kuils River that will be used for student accommodation.”
While the university has been working to address concerns by seeking viable solutions, he says that a number of the demands, such as the demand for ten gigs of data per month, are unrealistic.
“Ten gigs of data per month, for approximately 18 000 students, would cost the university in the range of 43 million. The university is saying; let’s find innovative ways of speaking to the City that is currently running a Wifi programme,” he added.
Given the fact that 60 per cent of UWC’s student population is female, Tyhalibongo asserts that the request for free sanitary towels would cost the university approximately R6 million per annum.
He says that it would be more cost effective to approach NGO’s and provincial government bodies that have initiated projects directed toward distributing free sanitary towels.
“In our response to students, we asked how we can approach NGO’s and provincial government. But, unfortunately, the invite to sit around the table with the students and find solutions to some of the requests has not been taken as yet.”
Tyhalibongo further notes, that the financial impact to facilitate all the demands would cost approximately R530 million.
He, therefore, says that the demands require more investigation and that the university should be provided with an adequate amount of time in which it can respond.
“It can’t be expected that the university implement things over night. But, gradually the university will implement things in agreement with students,” Tyhalibongo continued.
Meanwhile, Fees Must Fall UWC’s, Lundi Mazizi asserts that most of the issues that protestors tabled are internal issues that the university management needs to resolve, such as the withdrawal of the charges that were made against protesting students in the 2015 protests.
He says that after the protestors called all stakeholders to attend a meeting at the university, the management of the university informed them, moments before the meeting was scheduled to commence, that it would not be in attendance.
“We are dealing with internal matters; we are not yet engaging with free education, we know that the university cannot provide that. We are asking the university to endorse free education.”
Given the fact the condoms are supplied to citizens at no cost across the country, Mazizi asserts that government needs to ensure that all females are granted access to free sanitary towels.
In the light of the on-going violence on campus, UWC has decided to suspend all face-to-face classes for the remainder of the academic year.