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Poor Preparations for Freshmen Behind Recurring University Protests: South African Bishop

Bishop Siphiwo Paul Vanqa of South Africa's Queenstown Diocese. Credit: Courtesy Photo

The Catholic Bishop of Queenstown Diocese in South Africa, Bishop Siphiwo Paul Vanqa, has faulted the government for “not good enough” preparation of freshmen as an important factor in the recurring university students’ protests.

In the last couple of years, university students have organized protests at the beginning of the academic year over registration and outstanding fee debt issues. 

On February 23, University of Free State students blocked entrances into their Bloemfontein campus while those at the QwaQwa campus violently disrupted their classes demanding that scholars continue with their studies without the prerequisite of a first payment. 

The students also demanded that the university permits students with outstanding debts of up to R25,000 (US$1,647.00) and those who are awaiting funding from the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) register provisionally for their courses. 

In a recent interview with ACI Africa, Bishop Siphiwo Paul Vanqa said the South African government has failed to adequately prepare for the students who are expected to join universities. 

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“Sometimes, no one can blame the young people. The young people seem to be giving us problems, but I think we are not planning well for them,” Bishop Vanqa said in the February 16 interview. 

He added, “I think the preparations, from our government’s side, to prepare for all these so many young people who will be joining in the tertiary institutions, is not good enough.”

“The preparations are not done properly because if we see these protests happening year in and year out, there must be a lack of preparations when it comes to the youth,” The South African Bishop said.

The university freshmen, he said, “are not being registered; they are not being allocated places in the university; they are not placed in the university; even after they complete their education, they have nowhere to work, because nothing is really prepared,” Bishop Vanqa said, adding that the failure to prepare for the youth “creates a lot of frustration” among them. 

The member of the Society of the Catholic Apostolate said protests and violence instigated by the youth across the country are a result of their frustrations.

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In the interview with ACI Africa, the Liaison Bishop for the youth of the Southern African Catholic Bishops’ Conference (SACBC) said the government ought to start preparing for newcomers who are expected to join tertiary institutions as soon as they start writing their final high school examinations.

“The preparations should not start when the tertiary institutions are about to open for a new academic year. Their preparation should start when they write exams towards the end of the year. The state should then allocate students and fees to the students,” Bishop Vanqa said. 

The Local Ordinary of Queenstown Diocese said that there is need for the government and stakeholders to dialogue with the youth and seek solutions to the recurring protests. 

“I think we need a sort of workshop together with the young people to say, Guys, what do we do now that we are in this situation together?” Bishop Vanqa posed.  

He further said, “When things happen the way they do, it is most probably because we fail the youth as the government, we fail them as the leaders. We need to sit back and change our way forward. We need to work together.”

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He urged young people not to lose hope saying, “Our young people are not only the present of the church but also its future. With the struggles that they are going through, and the Church is going through and because of what Corona has done to us and to them, they shouldn't give up hope.” 

“We should be a hopeful church, hopeful society and hopeful community in that way, some of the problems that we have indeed will be better suited when we work together,” he said, and continued in reference to young people, “They shouldn't give up and say nothing can be done.”

He added, “We can always do something. It will take a little while but we have to begin to do something where we are. It starts with each and every one of us in our areas.”