Students at the University of Venda in South Africa have been protesting since Monday, resulting in the suspension of the academic program. The students have expressed anger at the delay in receiving their meal grants for 2017 from the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS), leaving most of them without food.
The university, situated east of Polokwane in the province of Limpopo, currently plays host to some of the poorest students in the country. This makes it all the more crucial that students receive their NSFAS funding on time. Protesting students have lamented the fact that they are being forced to live like “beggars” due to the delay.
The university spokesman noted that the NSFAS began dispensing grants on Monday. However, students maintained that they would continue to protest until all students have received their allowances. Some of the protesting students have resorted to renting parts of their living quarters to peers in exchange for food.
George Maluleke, a second-year student at the University of Venda, said, “We have been struggling for too long, and it appears NFSAS was not ready to listen to our demands, as students we felt it cannot be business as usual while we are suffering,”
Last month a total of 291,747 students were approved to receive NSFAS grants, but this number will continue to increase as more people fight for their right to an education.
According to Jacaranda FM Takalani Dzanga, a spokesperson for the university confirmed that the main entrance to the campus had been barricaded to prevent anyone from entering or exiting. Major disruptions such as these are a common tactic of South African students who have been engaged in nationwide protests over Higher Education fees since 2015.
The more privileged members of society in South Africa have been very vocal in their condemnation of the various ways in which students attempt to focus attention on their concerns. This is an example of the severe disjoint that exists between the vast portion of disadvantaged citizens, and those who still benefit from the institutions that were created to favor Caucasians during the Apartheid regime.
After reports had emerged that the protests had taken a violent turn, with some saying that several fires had been started, police officers were deployed to control the situation. The South African Police are notorious for responding aggressively to protests, and it is alleged that one of the University of Venda students was shot at with rubber bullets eighteen times before being hospitalized for severe injuries. Myriad shocking pictures of wounded students have been circulating on social media platforms, detailing the brutality of the force used by police.
Those close to the protests took to Twitter to chastise the media, the public, and government officials for the glaringly obvious lack of commentary and attention for the plight of the University of Venda students.
The criticism is making a comparison to the disproportionately high level of coverage the Fees Must Fall protests received in 2015 and 2016. Some have even gone so far as to suggest that it is the presence of many white students at institutions such as the University of Cape Town and the University of the Witwatersrand that is the catalyst for national attention.
What breaks my heart even more is that if this was a wits strike or UCT. They would have received the spotlight. #Univenstrike— Kgwerano KG (@LaikaMKG) March 29, 2017
The majority black disadvantaged and poor students in South Africa suffer marginalization and are often relegated to the forgotten fringes of society. This dynamic brings up the question of whether poor South Africans should be entitled to receiving a free education; a topic that inevitably polarizes citizens.
Below is more footage of the protests.
[Featured Image by Schalk van Zuydam/AP Image]