Beyond the Burg: Increases in student fees stir heavy protest

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September 18, 2009

2:17 AM

An alliance of students has held protests at South Africa’s University of Witwatersrand since Monday after the administration announced plans to increase fees for the 2010 academic year.

“The students are protesting against a proposed fee increase for 2010, which averages at 9 percent to 9.5 percent. The MBA [Masters of Business Administration] is one exception… it is proposed that it be increased by 15 percent,” Witwatersrand spokesperson Shirona Patel said in a released statement. In addition, residential student fees will be increased by 11.8 percent if the proposal is implemented.

Several hundred students handed out a memorandum of demands to the administration Tuesday and marched through campus, disrupting classes, chanting songs and yelling slogans. According to the South African Press Association, protests stayed peaceful Wednesday, but university officials still called in police.

The South African Students Congress, the African National Congress Youth League and the Young Communist League all form the Progressive Youth Alliance. Their demands include capping registration fees instead of increasing them to 6,000 rands, or approximately $820, as well as placing a moratorium on any fee increases.

“Registration fees determine access to the institution,” SASCO President Mawethu Rune said to the South African National Press. “Due to the economic recession, the increase will deny many students access [to education].”

Additionally, protesters want an investigation of the student fee structure and of university services that have been outsourced, such as security, cleaning and catering.

They are also calling for the removal of the university’s vice-chancellor, Loyiso Nongxa, who they allege has not seriously addressed student concerns. Nongxa was booed when he refused to personally accept the memorandum listing student objections, instead sending Wits’s registrar. The memorandum was finally given to Vice Principal Yunus Ballim.

Nongxa condemned the protest for violating the rights of students whose class time was disrupted and threatened disciplinary action against students not in compliance with Wits’ code of conduct.

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