Varsity tightens security amid protest over NSFAS pay method

The University of Free State (UFS) has tightened security around three campuses following violent protests which erupted this week.

UFS vice-chancellor Francis Peterson said the university had its own campus protection officers and private security brought in to help in affected campuses.

Peterson added that university management is ready to call on the help of the SA Police Service if things get out of hand.

He said the protest came as a shock to management, saying the UFS has been stable until on Wednesday when all its campuses embarked on violent protests.

The protests resulted in damage to property, arrests and injury to one member of the community.

Scores of students from UFS Bloemfontein, south and Qwaqwa campuses held protests over the National Student Financial Aid Scheme’s (NSFAS) eZaga allowance disbursement method.

The eZaga is an online digital banking system that sends out allowances directly to NSFAS beneficiaries.

Peterson said among other things, students would be funded by NSFAS and later learn that they had been defunded.

He said students are also demanding for NSFAS to bring back the old method where the scheme would pay monies directly to universities.

Students across the country are allegedly threatening a national shutdown at least until their grievances have been addressed.

“The decision that NSFAS took to have direct payments was done earlier this year,” said Peterson.

“They then would have done the payments at the end of July. As I indicated, we have got over 21 000 students that would have received the payments.

“But they need to be on boarded onto this service provider platform which is eZaga. Up until the end of July, there were close to 20 000 students that were on-boarded. But the payments that were made were only to 11 000 students.”

He said the new system makes it difficult for the university to know when there is a particular issue with a certain student, because the direct payment to students often leaves the university in the dark.

Peterson added that communication between the Department of Higher Education and Training, NSFAS and tertiary institutions needs to be emphasized to avoid complications in the future.

The UFS would have supported the new payment system by NSFAS if communication was effective, he said, but highlighted that the eZaga mastercard system is not financially sustainable.

The vice-chancellor said if management concludes that the environment on any of the three campuses is not safe, it will shut down the campus and order student to go back home for their safety.

For now, the university continues with online classes regardless of one having been disrupted by protesting students.

The university’s Bloemfontein campus is the most affected so far in terms of damage caused to property.

“I certainly believe that they [protesting students] are opportunists, or they might be from outside. The students broke up in different splinter groups,” said Peterson.

“So, even if you have an army to be able to manage that, splinter groups across the whole area of the Bloemfontein campus would be challenging to manage.

“There had been a lot of capacity, but they split in smaller groups and we could not cover all that.

“We could not be at all of those places and, unfortunately, some of the damage that has been caused was because there wasn’t enough capacity at that specific location on campus.”


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