Accommodation and financial support are burning issues
Students from a number of campuses marched to the KwaZulu-Natal legislature in Pietermaritzburg on Wednesday. The march was part of South African Students Congress (SASCO) regional campus shutdown, involving UNISA, Durban University of Technology, Coastal College and TVET Colleges.
Students demanded that all National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) beneficiaries be unblocked for registration.
"We are tired of marching for the same thing every year," said Kubheka from TVET College, Midlands campus. "We have students who have not registered. Some of us need transport allowance. We can't study because we have no textbooks and food vouchers. Students are coming from far as the south and north coast. In the Midlands campus we don't have a hostel. Students survive by renting rooms in people's houses. Every year it is the same issue with NSFAS," said Kubheka.
Kagisho Mamabolo, a NSFAS spokesperson, said in a statement on Tuesday that registration of NSFAS funded students is not linked with payment of funds to institutions. He said that for many years, NSFAS students have not paid registration. Instead the institution claim this money from NSFAS after registration. "Institutions know the process," said Mamabolo They need to explain why they are doing things according to government policy, he said.
Mamabolo explained tha NSFAS signed an agreement with universities that it will pay them directly. The universities will then pay students cash. But where the institution is unable to do this, NSFAS will make the payments directly to students.
The march, supported by several student unions, started at the UNISA campus. It was peaceful and there was a heavy police presence.
Asanda Chamane from Coastal College said that some students are staying outside the college, because of too little accommodation. But he claimed that some hostels are closed and that the students have requested them to be opened.
"We have a shortage of lecturers," he said. "Last year we asked the college to increase the number of educators. They have not done that, yet we are expected to study."
"We are not taken seriously," said Siyanda Buthelezi from UNISA, who is studying law. "NSFAS promised to pay us in time. They have not done that. In UNISA the registration deadline was 31 January. No students have been paid until now."
Other issues listed in a memorandum included dilapidating infrastructure.
Sibusiso Masondo, SANCO regional convener for Moses Mabhida, said "The toilets in our institutions are a mess. If I can go inside the legislature, one can eat inside their toilets because they are clean. Free education should come in a package. There should be money for food, accommodation and cleanliness. TVET colleges are the worst."
Sne Snenyaniso, SASCO chairperson in Umgungundlovu region, said that the protesters were giving the legislature till 13 February to respond. "We will be forced to push these gates if we are not responded to on that day," he said.
The memorandum was accepted by the secretary to the legislature Narusha Naidoo. She could not address the students as they demanded to be addressed in Zulu.
Zethembiso Nzuza from the Speaker's office told students that by the end of the day, their memo would have been sent to the relevant officials. Nzuza promised there would be progress and answers "from our side" by 13 February.