By Mthokozisi Skonyana and Nthabiseng Mondhlana
Students at the University of Johannesburg’s Soweto Campus (UJ SWC) experienced consistent power outages between April and May, negatively affecting their academic performance and personal wellbeing.
“I would go home … [to] do all the necessities such as studying, doing laundry, preparing food and come back to campus when I have classes and tests,” said a student, who did not want to be named. “The daily routine of some students would involve taking the kettle to the library or lecture hall to boil water for bathing and keeping the body warm.”
Some students were unable to effectively prepare for tests and assignments. They worry that they might not qualify for semester examinations: an outcome that may lead to academic exclusion, said Mxolisi Manana, the President of the Student Representative Council (SRC) at UJ’s Soweto Campus.
To voice out their grievances, a group of students embarked on a protest on 23 May. The police arrived at the scene to disperse the protesters from the main gate as the protest disrupted academic and administrative activities of the University.
“Students were not violent at all; they stood at the [main] gate peacefully, singing, chanting and blocking the way in and out. There was no need to call the police,” said a student, who preferred to remain anonymous, adding that the police may have acted in such a manner due to the graduation ceremony expected to start at14:00.
UJ’s spokesperson Herman Esterhuizen said the University supports students participation in public protests, demonstrations and meetings so long as they do not disturb the University’s “academic and administrative activities, including graduations or place the safety of students and staff in jeopardy”.
“There is a record of three students who were injured [and] two of them were released from the hospital and responded well to medical treatment. They are now back at the residences,” said Manana, adding that only one student had been waiting for the doctor’s confirmation at the hospital.
Persistent cable theft. Esterhuizen specified in a written response that the power outages can be attributed to a national problem caused by cable theft and load shedding. The institution is devising means to address the issue and exploring alternative solutions such as the increase of solar power capacity on the campus, said Esterhuizen.
“Our Soweto Campus is in one of the areas that has been hard-hit by the theft of electricity cables,” UJ’s Vice-Chancellor, Professor Tshilidzi Marwala, said in a weekly statement. “As a contingency measure, the University has been supplying backup generator power. At least five generators have been made available to provide power to academic and support or administrative facilities and student residences.”
In the present year, there have been instances when technicians of the City of Johannesburg’s electricity supply entity, City Power, were met with intimidation during the repairs of stolen cable sites.
Based on a statement released on 30 May, City Power’s Communications Officer, Stanley Itshegetseng, said that since the start of the current financial year, cables worth over R14 million have been stolen.
Since January 2021, City Power has had 144 incidents of cable theft to the value of R2.2 million. In December 2020, there were 206 incidents of cable theft. Most of these incidents happened during the recent stage 2 load shedding that was implemented across the country, said Itshegetseng.
“The issue of cable theft is one of the major contributing factors to the outages we deal with daily across the city of Johannesburg,” said Tshifularo Mashava, City Power’s acting Chief Executive Officer. YC
Editing by Gaby Ndongo and Magnificent Mndebele. Feature image obtained from Unsplash.