By Eva Chipa.

I remember reading a news article at the beginning of the year that Wits receives just over 100 000 applications. Currently, according to its website, it only accepted 6 263 first-year students. The age-old reality that many people forget is that getting into university is not easy. From the stats above, just over 93 thousand youths were rejected. Many institutions across the country tell a similar story of limited space.

Now, limited space meets limited financial support. The job climate requires a degree but getting one is an uphill battle with occasional rubber bullets, stun grenades, and police nyalas. I remember being on campus during the 2015 Wits #FeesMustFall protests. I volunteered at the campus radio station, as part of the news department, and during one of the protests; I had to report live from the ground.I recall the chants, demands, and the level of change we students believed in. I resonated with it. My mother had to take out a loan in order for me to register,I understood the plight of what was being asked.

As the chants continued, I started my telephonic interview and while on call, everything went violent. Police started to fire rubber bullets, students dispersed and I was stuck behind a signpost hearing bullets ricochet against it. A random male student came and grabbed me just as a stun grenade fell less than 1 meter away from where I previously stood. While running, the fumes from the stun grenade increased and a girl in front of me collapsed. She was asthmatic and the fumes blocked her airways. I’d never forget that day. A stranger and I had to grab her body out of the way and ask someone to help us carry her to the clinic before she died from her asthma attack.

At that moment, I was livid. What everyone else saw on TV and how it truly affected the students, were two different things. In that, moment I hoped the demands would be met and we’d all be safe. I say safe because, history has shown that if change does not come fast enough, violence becomes the remaining option to get the message across. Eight years later, countless students have been injured, Mthokozisi Ntumba (a bystander) got killed and the protests continue.

Students of 2023 demand those who owe the university less than R150 000 be allowed to register for the academic year, the R10 000 deposit for accommodation be waived. Lastly, the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) allowance of R45 000 for accommodation to be scrapped as students say residence now costs over R60 000. However, as devil’s advocate, I ask if is it genuinely about the student’s well-being or if it is a long interview to enter into South Africa’s political landscape. Whom do the leaders
of this movement really protest for? It’s common knowledge that the Student Representative Council tend to be well off once they gain that seat.

The majority of the people who were at the forefront of the FeesMustFall movement have gained fame and political progress in ways, which left many people envious. As the leaders of old now sit in portfolio committees and important positions in parliament, on the ground the fight continues. The FeesMustFall protest have become such a yearly thing, people joke that it seems like a rite of passage for the incoming SRC. What determines the protest agenda? Is it something that affects students collectively or just a few students? I says this because I do have a bone of contention,This recent protest especially on financial exclusion has brought in a new angle.

Wits spokesperson Shirona Patel mentioned that those protesting are students, who have repeatedly failed, have been kicked off NSFAS funding  for failing and want to register but debt from the previous failed years is mounting ANC’s secretary general Fikilie Mbalula recently said at a media briefing that they understand the plight of the students, but the learners must study, pass and make way for others. So now we need to look at the stats, if just over 6 000 first years are admitted into the institution how many students leave at the end of their degree time? Don’t get me wrong, fighting for accommodation while needing to study is a real issue. If you have passed Braamfontein recently, you will see new accommodation has been built. If only government and Wits could create a free residency space. Residence for students who really need it. I think those new buildings would do.

A colleague of mine said, “Leave the kids, we had our protests during Apartheid, now this is their time” Which had me questioning, how many protests do we need to go through for change to happen? Staff members have joined the protest over salary increases and stand in solidarity with the students. So, from where I stand, I think money is needed for protests to end. But looking at the recent economic climate, South Africa being grey listed, the rising costs of living, the devastating impact that load shedding and let’s not forget State Capture. The question now is, money from where, and who do we trust with it?

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