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This article appeared in the Herald of 7 October 2016.

AFTER almost a month of no lectures, NMMU students are set to return to their studies on Monday.

The announcement was made in a statement by the university on its website last night, marking the end of a three-week shutdown of the institution.

NMMU spokeswoman Zandile Mbabela said all relevant stakeholders – including students, parents and student organisations – had been informed about the return to studies.

Mbabela said the decision to resume operations had been made after talks between protesting students and management.

“After a press briefing last month by the acting vice chancellor [Sibongile Muthwa], there was concern that prolonging the shutdown beyond Monday would adversely affect whether students would be able to finish the academic year,” she said.

“Due to those ongoing negotiations, a resolution was reached that operations can resume tomorrow [today] for staff and that classes can resume on Monday.”

Mbabela said various faculties at the university had developed catch-up plans to assist students complete the academic year. Meanwhile, talks would continue. She said the plan to return to lectures was not the end of the issues and a multi-stakeholder approach would continue until they had all been resolved.

Student Representative Council president Nicholas Nyati said he had mixed feelings.

It was good that lectures were resuming, but he was also “fearful” of the increased workload students would face.

“Our next step, once the institution is open, is to look at the academic calendar to see how the restructuring will work and if it benefits the students,” he said.

“Secondly, we need to look at those students who were supposed to graduate in December and whether that can still be achieved.

“If not, we need to find ways of allowing them to graduate in February or March.”

Nyati said the effects of the closure would be felt by all students, regardless of their marks.

“Top-performing students would most likely achieve average marks, while the average-performing students would most likely fail, so having a negative impact on them,” he said.

“This could result in some students losing their scholarships or bursaries, or, in the event of failure, being excluded on academic grounds.” Nyati called on everyone to work together. Meanwhile, a number of voice messages were doing the rounds last night, allegedly from students, although this could not be confirmed. In the messages, some students claimed they had not been informed about the reopening and would “remove students from classes on Monday”.

Attempts to contact leaders of the #FeesMustFall movement were unsuccessful.

One NMMU student who supports the movement said the group had said they would not go back to class until free education was granted, and that had not been achieved.

Azola Dayile, a member of the #FeesMustFall movement, was asked about the identity of those issuing the voice messages on WhatsApp.

He said: “That’s the beauty of our movement – you often know don’t everyone who is a part of the movement.

“It is open and anyone can speak on behalf of the movement – sometimes it is binding and sometimes it is not.

“Regarding the voice messages, I cannot say that those messages are binding on the movement as every student still speaks for themselves, so if the students say they don’t want to go back to class, they don’t want to go back to class,” Dayile said.

In another voicemail, an unidentified student described the decision to reopen as “quite arrogant”.

He said university authorities had been told that the protesters were the “new management” of NMMU.

“The only time we will go back to class is when they give us free education and, besides that, they haven’t even committed to doing anything on our internal demands that we were complaining about,” the voicemail said.

In a Facebook post, Athenkosi Daniso, presumably a student, writes: “Until our demands are met, there’s no university that will open.

“Come Monday, you will see that we’re not playing cards here.”

Meanwhile, a Concerned Association of Parents and Others for Tertiary Education at Universities (Captu) committee member said a silent protest planned for today had been called off as members were pleased to hear the university would reopen.

The group had sent a letter of demand to Muthwa threatening court action against the university if their demands were not met.

“We just want the university to stay open without disruptions,” the member said.

Mbabela said the university was aware of the possible court action and it was being dealt with by NMMU’s legal department.

Contact information
Ms Zandile Mbabela
Media Manager
Tel: 0415042777