24 UFS protesters arrested

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A total of 24 protesters were arrested outside the University of the Free State’s main campus in Bloemfontein on Thursday 11 March.

The OFM News team was at the scene just as the police loaded a group of protesters into vans after demonstrations against the 2021 registration process moved to the main campus gate, located in Nelson Mandela Drive.

OFM News reports that amongst those arrested, a senior student reveals from inside a police van that he owes the institution R120 000 and is unable to register due to financial challenges.

“Many of us have not registered. I owe the institution R120 000 and no-one is working at home, that is why we’re here. Our only sin is to want to get an education.” He further alleges that some of them were fetched from their homes by authorities and promptly arrested.

Free State Police spokesperson, Motantsi Makhele, says public order police were deployed to the entrance of the UFS just before midday after receiving several complaints of roughly 50 demonstrating students blocking a part of the Nelson Mandela Drive. Makhele says the group was instructed to clear the road, but some protesters did not, resulting in stun grenades being used to disperse the crowd. “A total of 24 students were arrested for contravening the Road Traffic Act and Gatherings Act. All arrested students are expected to appear in the Bloemfontein Magistrate’s Court soon,” concludes Makhele.

The arrests come as Higher Education Minister, Blade Nzimande, announced on Thursday that Cabinet had approved the release of funding through a reprioritisation of his own Department’s budget for registrations to proceed. The particular issue under discussion was the shortfall in funding for the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) for 2021.

Meanwhile, the UFS has extended the registration period for first-year students to 19 March, whereas senior undergraduate students have up until Friday 12 March to register. With regards to outstanding tuition fees, the institution has approved registration for the following:

1. Students with approved funding from NSFAS for 2021, are allowed to register without any first payment.
2. All non-NSFAS students who have outstanding debt of up to R20 000, may register provisionally by paying R2 050 (non-residence) or R7 290 (residential).
3. All non-NSFAS confirmed final-year students who have outstanding debt of up to R25 000, may register provisionally.

In addition, the following

concessions were granted to 2020 NSFAS bursary students who have not yet received approval from NSFAS for 2021 or who may not have met NSFAS requirements. These students may register as follows:
1. If a student has no outstanding debt from 2020, he/she may register provisionally without any payment, on condition that they meet the academic requirements for registration.
2. If a student has outstanding debt for 2020, he/she may use the provisional registration option to register.
3. The university will not be able to pay any allowances or private accommodation costs until confirmation of NSFAS approval has been received and funds have been transferred from NSFAS.
4. If no allocation is made by NSFAS, the student will need to fund his/her own studies or deregister, with no debt accumulation.

The university management is aware that first-time entering first-year students (FTENs), who have applied for NSFAS funding, are also encountering challenges with funding, as they are still awaiting an outcome from NSFAS.

Earlier in the week a group of protesters who have identified themselves as the Concerned Student Movement disrupted administrative and academic activities at the main campus on Tuesday, citing issues surrounding funding, campus access, the online registration process and the academic programme as their reasons.

UFS spokesperson, Lacea Loader, said the protesters handed over a memorandum with a list of demands to university management regarding the aforementioned issues and a response was provided to the Concerned Student Movement on Wednesday morning (10 March).

“The executive management is committed to ensuring stability on campus and to the uninterrupted continuation of academic and administrative services and will continue to engage with students to find amicable solutions to matters that are of concern to them. It remains important that the 2021 academic year continues and that it is completed successfully,” said Loader.

OFM News/Olebogeng Motse, Lucky Nkuyane and Blaine Jones