21 April 2019


University fees protests force closure of two NWU campuses


Nthusang Lefafa


23 September 2016

North West University (NWU) has closed its Mahikeng and Vaal Triangle campuses amid fresh anti-fees protests this week.

Monday's announcement by Minister of Higher Education and Training, Blade Nzimande, that institutions of higher learning were free to increase 2017 fees - as long as the increment does not go beyond 8% - saw university students starting protest action again. NWU Mahikeng and Vaal Triangle campuses were also affected, resulting in university management deciding to shut them down temporarily to restore calm.

In a statement on Thursday, the university blamed the escalation in protest action, sometimes violent, for its decision, saying that lessons at the Mahikeng Campus would resume after the short recess break on 10 October.

"We took the decision to close the campus because we could not guarantee the safety of both the management and the students," NWU Mahikeng campus spokesperson, Koos Degenaar, told Semphete.

"Staff will proceed with their duties and activities from outside the campus until informed otherwise, and academics were urged to continue their communication with students by providing their teaching and learning material on the eFundi platform. Students staying in residences were encouraged to leave the campus for their own safety," the university management said.

The Vaal Triangle Campus will re-open on 26 September and will then close again for the scheduled recess. All activities on the campus have been suspended for the period in question, but residences will remain open.

It's business as usual at the Potchefstroom Campus because no protest related incidents have been reported so far. While not mentioning any organization by name, university management has blamed the violent protests on "political agendas from certain student formations".

Degenaar warned that if the protests continued even after the temporary closure, the campus might be forced to close for the rest of the year.

Apart from minor damages caused to security cameras at the main entrance, no other university property was damaged this week.

The university told Semphete it would continue to engage the Student Representative Council (SRC) with the hope that an amicable solution is found.

Disruptions at the Mahikeng campus began following a meeting among the students after Minister Nzimande's fee increment announcement.

"On Tuesday morning at about 10h00am the students called a mass meeting in the Great Hall on campus where it is assumed that they discussed the announcement by the Minister on the fee increase. After that they started to disrupt classes and also intimidated staff who were in their offices.

"A group of students also went to the main gate where they pushed a container belonging to a vendor into the middle of the road outside of campus and set it alight. The students then blocked entry into the campus and burnt tyres," Degenaar said.

Student leader, Rebaone Raymond Pudi, said several issues like outstanding fee balances, which give students problems when they want to register, were not addressed in Minister Nzimande's statement.

NWU Vice Chancellor, Professor Dan Kgwadi, said the management would meet the university council to discuss the way forward regarding fees increase.
"After the announcement made by minister of higher education, Dr Blade Nzimande, we are now in a position to go and finalise our budget proposal to council and take it from there," Kgwadi said.

But Mahikeng campus SRC said they would not accept any fee increment. SRC president for this campus, Dikago Pule, said: "We reject any talks of fees increment. We will never budge in our move and we are defiant. We will meet with our students and take it from there.
"Even though we embrace the need for education to achieve sustainability, only limited progress has been made on any level. This lack of progress stems from many sources. Lack of vision or awareness from both universities and government has impeded progress. We have many students who come from poor backgrounds and they continue to drop out of universities because of pricey education," Pule said.