Business feels pinch as protests lead to payment delays by varsity
The harsh effect of nationwide campus disruptions has started to impact on associated industries in Port Elizabeth, with student digs operators – who have not been paid by NMMU – among the first to feel it.
About 300 National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) bursary holders went into a panic after The Digs student accommodation put up a notice and sent SMSes on Tuesday informing them they would be evicted due to non-payment by NMMU.
According to the notice, The Digs had not received any payments for the second semester from the university for NSFAS and bursary students, forcing them to evict the students.
The university conceded yesterday that the ongoing shutdown had affected the payment process but said the student accommodation establishments would be paid by tomorrow, at the latest.
SRC president Nicholas Nyathi said he had learnt that NMMU had not met its September payment deadline due to its finance department not working as a result of the closure.
“Payments have apparently been delayed,” he said.
“Our main priority is ensuring that no student is evicted.
“I believe the university has not been proactive as this could easily have been avoided.”
Nyathi said the SRC was engaging with the affected students as well as university management to remedy the situation.
He feared other possible crises as a result of the shutdown.
“There are students who cannot access health services at the university and students who can no longer make use of postal services,” Nyathi said.
“There is also no one assisting at the international office and students’ visas are about to ex“Many pire.” SRC accommodation and catering officer Adonis Shikwambana said the affected students were panicking as many of them were from outside the Eastern Cape and did not have family members they could stay with, or alternative accommodation.
“It actually came as a shock to me that these places have not been paid,” he said.
“We want to give them the benefit of the doubt that it was a mistake.
“However, if staff are still receiving their salaries during this shutdown then the finance department should be able to pay service providers.”
Shikwambana echoed Nyathi’s concerns about other services being disrupted.
international students say their visas are expiring at the end of November,” he said.
“We have already wasted three weeks and it looks like we will have to extend the academic year.
“We have essential services that now cannot be accessed, like the clinic and postal services.”
But #FeesMustFall activist Azola Dayile said: “We are in the process of engaging service providers and university management.
“No student will be left homeless, especially NSFAS and bursary holders.
“We will see to it no one is evicted.
“We take exception to the claim that this is a result of the shutdown.
“When students embarked on the shutdown, they understood there would be certain inconveniences.”
At a meeting at the Digs@Campanile residence, NMMU #FeesMustFall leader Lizo Jim urged students not to panic as they had met with the university’s management.
“We know there is a reason NMMU works with Digs, but when it suits them they want to evict students. “We won’t have it.” The Digs is made up of six establishments across the city.
Affected students insisted that the #FeesMustFall protest was for a good cause and any eviction should not deter progress in the fight for free education.
Portia Liwana, 21, a third-year BA admin student, said she had initially thought the NSFAS had not paid the university for her accommodation.
“I don’t have the money to go home to Ngqeleni should I get evicted,” she said.
“But I support the movement even though it is affecting us. I want fees to fall.”
Yanga Lingani, 21, a second-year logistics student, had mixed feelings.
“I support the #FeesMustFall movement because our government did promise us free education,” she said.
“But it is not okay to evict students who can’t afford their studies.”
Lethu Ngubane, 22, a third-year economics student, said: “Getting evicted is completely crazy. “Durban is far, I can’t just go home.” Asked if his perception of the #FeesMustFall movement had changed, Ngubane said: “I am 100% behind the movement, but I am not OK with [being] stranded on the streets.”
Ayamthanda Mti, 22, a second-year logistics student, said she had not known what to do when she first received the SMS. “It was a complete shock.”
She said her parents in East London did not have the money to pay for her to go home and come back later.
Asked if losing a place to live for the #FeesMustFall movement was worth it, she said: “Getting evicted . . . is necessary.”
Noel Nyemba, managing director and a partner at The Digs, said he had received an undertaking yesterday that the university would process the outstanding payment by tomorrow.
“We have a longstanding relationship with the university and it is just a pity this #FeesMustFall issue has now impacted on payment to service providers,” he said.
According to Nyemba, the non-payment has put immense pressure on The Digs with regard to its operating expenses.
“We believe other establishments have been affected as well.”
NMMU spokeswoman Zandile Mbabela said: “The second-semester payment of about R3-million has not yet been made and will be made by [tomorrow].”
“We had informed the accommodation establishments that we would pay them by the end of September.
“The shutdown put a spanner in the works and affected the payment process.”
She said all off-campus student accommodation had been affected and payment arrangements had been communicated to the relevant service providers.
“We are aware students are facing eviction and payments have been fast-tracked to avoid this.”
NSFAS spokesman Kagisho Mamabolo said: “We trust that should NMMU not be in a position to assist, for whatever reasons, it will bring the matter to our attention.
“A payment of R74 541 639 was made on October 4 to NMMU for accommodation.
“This payment was for all claims relating to accommodation until the end of September.“
Meanwhile, other businesses frequented by students say they have not seen much of a drop in foot traffic.