Institutional Discourse: The Students Shall Govern

by La-donna Gumede

The Wits protest was bigger than a fight against a fee increment – it was a fight against class and racial segregation, and a fight against the censorship of students’ voices in an environment meant for their needs. We witnessed, once again, how education is a privilege for Black people and the crippling reality in attaining it.

 

wits#1

“Personally speaking, I’m not going to say that my parent’s couldn’t have afforded the increase but it’s an inconvenience to many other people — what about everybody else’s parents who couldn’t?  What about the children who are too rich for NSFAS – which is failing by the way – but are too poor for this increase? What was supposed to happen to them? I’m a second year student and I was at the protest the entire day on Thursday. I left the protest at about 8pm. I wouldn’t have minded leaving at midnight if that’s what it took. We were back at it the next day.”

“One problem I had during the protest was that the media’s representation of it was terrible. I study media and I plan to do research in media — I  already know what the media’s intentions are. People don’t know so they just blindly take in everything that they read, even when it’s not the situation. The first thing that people are getting twisted is that it wasn’t just 10,5% increase on overall fees. It was 6%  increase in registration fees, 10,7% increase for international students, 9,7% for res fees. It wasn’t just 10,5%! We had people complaining about not being able to leave the university during the protest but honestly, students that can’t afford the fee increase feel trapped so the people who were against the protest got a taste of the sensation of what it means to be trapped. Some guy even said “some institutions and colleges are cheaper,” – we don’t want to go there. We want to go to Wits because it is a great institution.”

 

wits#3

“It had to take a protest for them to take us seriously. I’m a changed person actually. I think that the priority of a school should not just be the economy. A lot comes with education that can benefit the nation; knowledge comes with education, tackling stereotypes, ideologies and notions come with education. What if the solution or the cure for cancer, HIV or any of these epidemics lies in the head of a person who is poverty stricken and can’t afford to go to school? You’re not just robbing them of an education but you’re harming the nation in the long run. There are many people who are worthy of being at Wits, who might even be more deserving than I am but the only thing standing in the way is their financial situation. I just don’t understand it.”

 

wits#2

“Knowing how important education is to me and my family, had the fees had gone up, they probably would have been able to find a way to pay but it would have been at the expense of something else that’s also important to them and I don’t think that’s fair on them or me. There are so many things that we’ve had to cut back on as it is. There are other people out there who can’t get bursaries, scholarships or student loans. If they do, they have to pay it back one day so as soon as they get a job, they already have this massive debt. Here you are, increasing fees. Some people just don’t want to care because it doesn’t affect them but the truth is, this was going to affect everyone. People make a lot of sacrifices already just to be here.”

“The misogyny I also had to deal with – I was out there protesting just like everyone else but there were times I felt disrespected as a woman. We had use some sort of force to refer to everyone as “comrade” in order to have a voice. I had to be physically intimidating for people to take me seriously. Why must we always portray some sort of masculinity; why is it so difficult to take instructions from women? I feel like the girls, who are a vital part of our struggle were being sidelined.”

 

wits#4

 

Homie: “I won’t even be here next year but you have those moments where you can’t see what your marks are because your fees haven’t been paid and you can’t apply for anything because you don’t know what’s happening with your results. Late registration is a huge thing at Wits because people don’t have money to pay the registration fee.  Now, if you increase that, what’s going to happen? Then there are textbooks –   people don’t buy textbooks as it is – how are we going to get books if our fees are ridiculous. Then people start failing, getting excluded from the university. We already have people sleeping on campus because they have nowhere to go; people moving from library to library because they don’t have the cash to find a place to stay.”

 

Lady: “Yes! Some people can’t even afford a meal every day. If we look at the bigger picture, the increase was way above the inflation rate and that’s what everyone is complaining about.     Naturally, the standard of living would have   decreased because of the  increase. I work full- time, study part-time so that means the subjects I do every year are not as many as someone who’s full time. Now I’m paying  registration every year just because it will take me longer to finish my degree. Why must I pay that fee every year for one subject, for example . In fact, as a part time student, I’ll be spending more on my fees because I’m  extending my degree. I couldn’t be here during the protests because I was working but I fully supported. I’m a bit    disappointed that I couldn’t be here because I think it would have been such an empowering experience.”