Watchdog to look into rent-price fixing

While protests reached a crescendo on Friday, with the police being called on campus to quell tensions between students and private security guards at Wits University, the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS), which had announced it was going to report student accommodation providers to the Competition Commission for possible collusion and price gouging, had not done so by Friday.

NSFAS said last week it was mulling reporting student accommodation providers to the Competition Commission following reports that several of them have raised rent prices to astronomical levels above the R4 500 monthly cap stipulated by the scheme.

Responding to questions sent by Sunday World, Competition Commission spokesperson Siyabulela Makunga said their records show they have received a complaint of alleged excessive pricing against a student accommodation provider based in Braamfontein, Johannesburg, but said it was not lodged by NSFAS.

“The complaint was not submitted by NSFAS. The complaint is being screened and based on the evidence presented to us, the commission will make a determination whether to refer the matter to the Competition Tribunal for prosecution.

“If found guilty by the tribunal, the respondent may be liable to pay an administrative penalty of up to 10% of its total revenue for the period of the contravention of the Competition Act,” said Makunga.

NSFAS did not respond to questions around accomodation, allowances and protests. The Department of Higher Education and Training had also not responded at the time of going to press.

However, last week, NSFAS said many students from the University of Pretoria, Wits University, Stellenbosch University and the University of Cape Town could not find accommodation because they could not afford the new rental costs.

“The unaffordability of accommodation does not only affect NSFAS students, but parents from both poor and middle-class families who cannot afford monthly rent amounts of up to R9 000,” said NSFAS’s Slumezi Skosana in a statement.

Wits university students took to the streets of Braamfontein this week to protest against registration blocks on students with historical debt; NSFAS’s cap of R45 000 on accommodation and upfront deposits required by university residences for qualifying students whose bursaries have not yet sent them confirmation letters.

The protest turned ugly on Thursday with students strewing rubbish on the streets and instructing shops to close and disrupting classes.

On Friday, the deadline for registration, the protest turned violent as students clashed with private security, resulting in the university calling the police to quell tensions. Four police inyalas were called on campus.

When students resumed their protest later in the afternoon, the police inyalas returned along with police bakkies. The media was also instructed to leave the campus by university security, but the students refused.

Wits University said on Friday it had made several concessions to the demands of the students, including providing more funding, beds and deferring the payment of deposits for university residents.

Wits spokesperson Shirona Patel said Wits cannot agree to the demand that it register all students who owe R150 000 as it would make the university financially unsustainable.

Executive director of Amnesty International South Africa Shenilla Mohamed condemned the use of force by the university. “We call for restraint from all involved, including private security, the SAPS, and students. Security personnel should only use force as the last resort, and even then, only the bare minimum to prevent injury or loss of life.”

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