By day a Wits campus lab, by night a bedroom

10 February 2019 - 00:00 By JEFF WICKS and LWANDILE BHENGU


For prospective Wits University student Godfrey Sithole, hunger is a constant reminder of what seems to be an insurmountable obstacle between him and a formal education.
"I'm in a bad place. For the past week I have been begging people for food. Yesterday I had to ask someone to help me with two slices of bread," said Sithole, who is penniless and squatting in a campus library.
The 39-year-old is one of thousands of students caught in an administrative mess between the university and the National Student Financial Aid Scheme, both of which are straining under the massive influx of students seeking free tertiary education.
"There is a certain procedure that needs to be followed and it's good for management but it leaves people out in the cold," Sithole said.
"I was excluded [from a science degree] because I failed, but I applied for a different degree and I was accepted."
Notified of his acceptance after applications for hardship funding had closed, and with R60,000 in outstanding fees and no way to settle his debt, Sithole finds himself in an uncomfortable grey area.
"Until I pay half my fees I can't register, and because of that I can't apply for student housing.
"I'm sleeping in a lab. You just go in there to study and eventually I bundle up my jacket and sleep on the floor or anywhere there is space."
Sithole first enrolled at Wits in 2004, and while he passed his modules he was financially excluded. Taking piecemeal work as a gardener, he funded part-time study through Unisa, only to have his course phased out before he could complete the degree.
Now he finds himself back at Wits, still on the outside looking in. "Without a qualification I am nothing," he said.
The university was hit by protest action this week after the student representative council accused management of failing to make provision for emergency accommodation and historic debts that hindered students from registering.
Similar protests erupted in KwaZulu-Natal, and clashes on Tuesday at Durban University of Technology resulted in the death of final-year student Mlungisi Madonsela, 20.
Wits spokesperson Shirona Patel said the academic programme would continue and the university would not be "held to ransom by a few selfish individuals".
"This year we established a R13m hardship fund to help returning students to register. We have provided urgent accommodation and food to hundreds of students requiring assistance in recent weeks," she said.

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