Hundreds of Umgungundlovu Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) College students protested outside the college’s central office on Monday. It was one of several demonstrations in recent weeks where students shutdown activities at many college campuses all over the country.
In Pietermaritzburg, students from at least five campuses told GroundUp that they were yet to be paid funds owed to them by the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS). As a result, students have been unable to find accommodation. Some have been sleeping with their belongings in nearby halls while others are forced to share their rooms with friends. Classes at the five campuses have been suspended since last Wednesday with students vowing to continue with protest action until the college’s management responds to their complaints.
“Where are we supposed to sleep right now?” asked student Noluthando Kubheka. She was among the group who sang and chanted at motorists trying to access the college through its gates at Burger Street. Police monitored the group as they handed over a memorandum of their demands to management.
“There are students from far rural areas. The student accommodation at Plessislaer was closed two years ago. Ever since then, accommodation has been the biggest problem,” said Kubheka. “Some of the students have not been paid by the scheme since 2019. We want to know what happened with those payments.”
Student Representative Council (SRC) President Sabulelo Thalathala said, “In a meeting in 2018, the college had promised to look for accommodation in town. It’s been two years but still there’s no student accommodation. If the college had kept its promise we wouldn’t be here. On the other side NSFAS is not paying students. There is no money for transport and accommodation.”
South African Student Congress (SASCO) secretary at the Msunduzi campus, Njabulo Ntsaba, said some students should be writing supplementary exams or attending lectures but could not do so because they had nowhere to sleep and no money for food. “We need a solution. The college recruits students from as far as Tugela Ferry. Those students are here but have no place to stay.”
Sandile Zondi, deputy principal at TVET college employee section, accepted the memorandum. Zondi said the principal was attending a meeting. He promised that management would respond to each of the points raised by the students but could not answer questions about the college’s promise in 2018 to find alternative accommodation.
“The principal will call all the relevant departments to address the issues on the memorandum. We will then have a date where we will call your student delegation with the responses and solutions. We are aware of the concerns as the management,” said Zondi.
College management and students agreed to meet on Thursday to get feedback on their memorandum.
NSFAS did not respond to questions by the time of publication. The protests continued on Tuesday morning. TOJ
This article was first published by GroundUp on Wednesday, Feature image: Students from five campuses in Pietermaritzburg protested at the gates of the TVET College central office on Monday. The students say they will continue picketing until they are paid outstanding NSFAS fees and accommodation is provided for students. Image courtesy to Nompendulo Ngubane.