Wits students protest for free education and enrolment

The students had gathered outside Wits from as early as 6am.

Shirona Patel, Wits spokesperson, said the only people at the campus were staff as students were still at home. The protesters, she said, closed the entrances to the campus as they did not want staff to access it.

“They say they want free education and that every student be allowed to register despite their historic debt.”

She said the university had made some concessions to assist students by availing funds for those that could not afford tuition, registration as well as accommodation.

“Wits has made available a Wits Hardship Fund worth R10 million to assist students who are experiencing financial hardship and who have historical debt (up to R120 000). They can register and secure accommodation provided that they meet the criteria.

“Wits also established a Wits Covid-19 Relief Fund worth R10-million to assist students whose families have been adversely impacted by the pandemic.

“Approximately 27 000 of the University’s 37 500 students are on some form of financial aid, scholarship or bursary.”

This protest, Patel said, had elements of politicking and could also involve the students’ displeasure with the National Student Financial Aid Scheme, which is in financial difficulties. “What they want is bigger than us.”

She said at some point, protesters closed the road to Wits Medical School and that meant ambulances would not be able to get to the hospital.

“Police arrived and dispersed them.” Patel said they have allowed late registration until March 19.

Captain Mavela Masondo of the Gauteng police said the protesters had closed Empire Road. “They had closed it with refuse bins from Wits and we dispersed them.”

Traffic was badly affected by the protest and the Joburg Metro Police had to intervene.

Spokesperson Wayne Minnaar said: “Students were blocking Empire Road and Yale Road outside Wits University at approximately 6am to 7am today.

“They said they were protesting against the non registration of those students who had debt.

They then moved to the Wits campus next to Charlotte Maxeke Hospital. Officers are busy monitoring the situation.”

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