Hundreds of desperate students risked danger by jumping over the fences and walls of the University of South Africa’s (Unisa) Sunnyside campus after the South African Students’ Congress (Sasco) and ANC Youth League (ANCYL) members shut down the campus yesterday morning.
Thousands of people queued outside the campus yesterday after the university announced at the weekend it would reopen for applications for first-time students for the 2018 academic year.
But the hopefuls were met by burning tyres at the university entrance as Sasco and ANCYL members were protesting against the payment of registration fees.
In December, President Jacob Zuma announced free higher education across universities and technical vocational education and training (Tvet) colleges from this year.
Unisa staff were sent home in the interests of their own safety, leaving scores of hopeful students queueing outside in the sun.
After a courageous student jumped over the closed gate, others followed, with many throwing themselves over the high walls and gates of the campus.
Despite their eagerness to get inside, the students could not be assisted as the university was not operating yesterday, spokesperson Martin Ramotshela told The Citizen.
“The Sunnyside campus was not open for business as staff were not able to access the campus because the protesting students had blocked it. Staff were sent home for their own safety,” he said.
Following a shutdown by the Economic Freedom Fighters Student Command (EFFSC) on Friday, Unisa decided to open for walk-in and online applications for firsttime applicants yesterday.
However, Sasco and the ANCYL were demanding the university to do away with registration fees, and scrap historical debt as it hindered many poor students from accessing free education.
“They are forcing our students to pay registration fees and we are of the understanding that, after the pronouncement of Zuma, this year is the year of free education,” said Unisa Sunnyside campus ANCYL chairperson Amukelani Ngwenya. “Free education must be granted to students who are poor and come from poor backgrounds.”
To avoid a possible stampede, the university opened the gates, Ramotshela said.
“At some point, when people started pushing through and climbing over, we realised it might turn ugly and opened the gates for them to get in, even though there was no service,” he said.
Unisa will be open for registration and walk-in applications today, while a management committee meeting will be held to look at students’ demands, Ramotshela added.
“We have noted their demands and management will process their memorandum and the issues they have tabled and will respond by the end of business on Tuesday on issues of registration.”