By Ntombovuyo Ngaphu
I was very excited to find out recently that Rhodes students who could not afford to go home during the March vacation were provided with free accommodation or were given money from the university to put toward getting home.
Many people, myself included, only found out about this initiative this year after the rise of the Black Student Movement, and we thought that it is this organization that made it all possible. The BSM is a student organization that was recently formed by a number of Rhodes students who claim that they represent the concerns of black middle-class students.
After talking to the SRC president, Siyanda Makhubo, however, I learned that the issue of students having difficulties with going home for short vacations has been going on for years; even before I came to Rhodes in 2013. Students coming from other provinces such as Limpopo, Free State, KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng and those coming from foreign countries to Rhodes University are usually hit hard by the fact that they have to pack up and leave the institution or pay quite a hefty price to stay during vacations. As a result, the SRC Facebook page has been bombarded with posts of students complaining about this issue.
The SRC has replied to these posts asking students who are affected to go and visit their offices so that they could get assisted. The financial administration identifies students in need of assistance by assessing their documents to see their financial status and whether it shows that they really cannot afford to go home during vacation. Students are either given funds for a single trip to go home or offered space in residences that are especially dedicated to accommodate them during that period of time.
“There’s no strict procedure that is followed to identify students that are in dire need because situations are different hence they need to be addressed differently,” said SRC president, Siyanda Makhubo.
The programme that offers such students free accommodation or transport fare is similar to the annual Pocket Money fund that was introduced in the previous years to assist students who come from underprivileged backgrounds to buy themselves toiletries and other basic necessities. This particular initiative was started by the former Dean of Students, Dr Vivian de Klerk.
According to Makhubo, the Director of Student Affairs negotiates with the department of infrastructure to pay a cheaper amount of money in specially chosen residences so that students can stay over vacation. Makhubo says that he also used to stay over short vacation because going home to Pretoria for a period of a week or two was too expensive. This past March, however, he went home and realized how painful it is to spend many hours travelling, pay a lot of money and only get to stay home for a few days.
The data and information that tells which specific students were assisted each vacation is strictly confidential but students who wish to apply for assistance for the September vacation are welcome to visit the SRC or the Dean of Students office.