South Africa: 'Victimised' for Campus Protest

South West Gauteng College has forced students to sign affidavits saying they will not participate in any more protests while preventing another protester from registering for the 2021 academic year.

Agriculture student Lubanzi Mavovana has been sitting at home for the past three months, unable to register at South West Gauteng Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) College.

His exclusion apparently stems from an outstanding debt of R16 000 that the college says he owes, and Mavovana says it is linked to his involvement in a student protest last year.

He did not have the funds and could not register. Desperate, he called Mu-Aalima Fakude from the National Interfaith Council of South Africa. Fakude had helped students previously during a protest in November last year over fees, when the police shot at and arrested some of them.

However, Mavovana received a text message from the college on Tuesday 4 May asking him to attend classes. A screenshot of the message reads: "Dear student, please attend all your subjects as per the rotational schedule to ensure that you don't remain behind with assessments. Classes start at 7.45am to 2.30pm."

Mavovana asked about the message and says he will only be allowed to go on to campus to write assessments for the three subjects he is repeating as a part-time student.

"Agriculture is not only a career but a way of life. I would love to live as a farmer and contribute to society through job creation," says Mavovana.

Fee issues

His troubles began in January, when he used his phone to register, and continued on 17 February when he went with his father to the campus to finalise the process. His father needed to sign forms, as per the protocol at the college. But on that day, he was called to see deputy campus manager Asser Diphare and another member of staff before he could register.

Mavovana says Diphare told him to sign an affidavit after his involvement in a protest over the late payment of National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) funds last year. He says the affidavit was an undertaking that he would never participate in a student protest again.

Mavovana says he signed the affidavit at the police station and "returned it to him [Diphare] to sign a form that allows me to register". New Frame has seen the affidavit.

But Mavovana says he was told to pay R16 000 up front to allow his registration. He then turned to Fakude for help.

"Incompetent leadership in this TVET college, from academic to technical[ity], has given rise to a negligent organisational culture," says Fakude.

This "negligence" is characterised by "carelessness" in the handling of students' affairs, putting them at risk of mental health conditions, as depicted in Mavovana's case, according to Fakude.

Yo-yo decisions

Fakude attended a webinar titled The Case for Free Higher Education in South Africa on 17 March. Among the panellists were Deputy Minister for Higher Education and Training Buti Manamela and NSFAS board chair Ernest Khosa.

Fakude raised the Mavovana matter during this event.

Another meeting was held on 29 March 2021 at the George Tabor campus, attended by Diphare, Fakude and other members of college staff. The outcome was that Mavovana could register late with the approval of campus manager Reuben Mosiane, Fakude says.

Attendants at meeting also decided that the R16 000 in outstanding fees needed to be verified, but Fakude says the debt doesn't exist. "I took the email address and begun the R16 000 enquiry with NSFAS. It turned out that was not true ... There is no R16 000 anywhere in the record and neither is Lubanzi carrying any historical debt, except an outstanding of R3 029, which I believe NSFAS will settle this year." Student records confirm the amount of R3 049.

Fakude followed up on the college's resolution to register Mavovana by calling Mosiane on 30 March, but says he refused to act on the commitment made at the meeting. "He said registration is closed, so Lubanzi must come back next year."

The NSFAS declined to comment, saying the matter was confidential.

No-protest affidavits

Two registered students who asked to remain anonymous say they were also asked to sign affidavits after protesting last year.

Lucky* says college management is using the affidavits to intimidate students. "The kind of oppression I have been receiving since signing the affidavit has been unbelievable. Campus management says any mistake [we make], we are going to be expelled."

Sophie* asked what would happen if she didn't sign the affidavit. "They told me I am not going back to school for the whole year."

Mavovana finds it strange that the college singled him out from all the students who protested, but has an idea why. "The farm manager had told me he no longer wanted me at the farm school this year ... It turns out I am denied registration to make sure I'm already out."

Mavovana wants to continue his studies. "I want to register and go to class. I want to finish my level three [second year] this year and complete my course at the end of 2022."

South West Gauteng College student support officer Tshepo Mokoena said: "I have forwarded the email to the relevant office that will respond accordingly." And Mosiane said: "This matter has been referred to the college principal, Mr Monyamane." The college had not responded by the time of publication, neither had the Department of Higher Education or Walter Maphosa, the acting director of resulting and certification for TVET colleges.

*Not their real names.

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