LOOK: Chaos as thousands of prospective students descend on DUT
By Sakhiseni Nxumalo and Nonhlanhla Hlatshwayo
DURBAN - THOUSANDS of desperate walk-in applicants descended on the Durban University Technology (DUT) yesterday hoping to be accepted as students for the 2021 academic year.
This led to fears that the packing of prospective students into the university’s Sports Centre building, with no social distancing and some not wearing masks, could lead to the outbreak of the Covid-19 virus.
According to students, messages were circulated on social media platforms stating that DUT would be accepting walk-ins for a whole week, starting from yesterday.
The university’s Student Representative Council president, Zabelo Ntuli, said they also saw the messages, however, they did not receive any official communication from the university management.
“We also saw messages. We also spread the word, as we wanted students to register,” said Ntuli.
The circulated messages resulted in thousands of students from all over the country, including some from the Eastern Cape, Mpumalanga and Gauteng, making their way to the university.
When The Mercury visited the institution, thousands of students were gathered inside the DUT’s Sports Centre at the Steve Biko Campus. The building was packed to capacity, while hundreds of students queued outside the university’s entrance.
“Not even one student was assisted as the registration got cancelled. The staff just left the venue and said they could not assist such a huge number, and they feared contracting Covid-19,” said Ntuli, who also said an instruction was issued for students to leave the institution.
“We are angry, and it is clear that the institution is undermining students and the leadership at large. Many of the students used their last cent to come here, but they are made to go back home empty handed,” he said.
Ntuli also attributed the large turnout to issues with the online registration system, saying many students were unable to register online after they were accepted by the university.
Prospective student Mluleki Nzama, who spoke to The Mercury last night at the venue, said that he came from his hometown of Ulundi hoping to secure a spot at the university.
“I have hope that tomorrow (today) they might assist us. I was hoping that I would finish everything today (yesterday) and go back home. It’s sad and I’m hungry, but I’m left with just transport money to go back home,” said Nzama.
Another student, who refused to be named, said getting infected with Covid19 was the least of their worries.
“I personally don’t care about Covid19 at this stage, all I wanted was to register, secure my space, and study. I got a firm offer, and I tried to register online, but I just failed and decided to come here.”
Current scenes at #DUT Sports Centre. Walk-ins— Sakhiseni Nxumalo (@SakhiNxumalo) April 6, 2021
📸 Sakhi Nxumalo
“I, personally, don’t care about Covid-19 at this stage. All I want is to register and study,” says one of the young man.@TheMercurySA pic.twitter.com/TdE0eKFgxZ
DUT said in a statement last night that the university had been exploring strategies to deal with the challenge of the slow pace of registration of first-time entering (FTEN) students for various reasons, including their challenges with the online registrations system.
It said an email sent last week by the deputy vice-chancellor for teaching and learning to faculties discussed strategies that the university could adopt to quicken the pace of registration.
“One of the strategies was about enlisting professionalised call centre services, in addition to faculty-based initiatives. Such a service would help to reach out to all students with firm offers, students on wait lists and other qualifying students that could have approached them since registration started. Some call the latter group ‘walk-ins’. As a result of this, the university had also decided to extend the registration period for FTEN applicants to 9 April 2021.”
DUT said it appeared that a number of unauthorised social media posts inviting all applicants to come to the campuses yesterday had been circulated.
“Many potential applicants arrived at our gates, expecting to be registered. These persons were not invited by the university to register, nor given any indication that they were to arrive at the university.
“All along, the university has been using a strict Covid-19 compliant system where those struggling with our online registration would report their experiences via the telephone, and, where necessary, be invited and granted permits. As a result, all our registration venues, including the Sports Centre, have been orderly and Covid-19 compliant. The unauthorised social media and fake text message invitations resulted in a large-scale influx of persons on to the campuses.
“Following the violation of the Covid-19 guidelines as a result of the campus invasion by a large number of people and considering the related risks to health, safety and security, the university has decided to immediately suspend on-campus support for online registration. Thus, for the time being, all registration continues strictly online.”
The university said it would contact all first-year applicants who received firm offers to study at DUT but for whatever reason, have not registered as yet.
“We advise all prospective and returning students to please be wary of “fake” statements on social media, emails and text messages that purport to be official DUT ones.”
In uMlazi the Mangosuthu University of Technology closed with immediate effect yesterday, due to the ongoing workers’ strike.
Workers represented by the National Education, Health and Allied Workers' Union (Nehawu) downed tools last week, demanding annual salary increases.
Mbali Mkhize, senior director at MUT, said disgruntled staff were burning tyres in front of the main entrance of the university.
“In order to avoid any injuries to staff and students, as well as damage to university property, we have decided to close the university,” said Mkhize.
It was alleged that a group of about 300 students joined the strike and blockaded the Mangosuthu Highway.
KZN police spokesperson Captain Nqobile Gwala confirmed the protest action outside MUT, but said no serious incidents were reported.
Gwala said uMlazi police and Public Order Police were at the scene to monitor and stabilise the situation, and dispersed the protesters.
Mthokozisi Gumede, MUT SRC president, also confirmed that they joined the protest as they also had serious unresolved issues.
These, said Gumede, included students who were still unable to register after the university required them to pay outstanding historical debt fees.
He also said that there were a number of students, especially first years, who were yet to register online.
According to the university, as of March 30 this year, they had registered 2 394 students.
“The university’s online registration system failed dismally. Students have received firm offers but they are unable to register,” Gumede said.
Following the protest that led to the shutdown, the university would be meeting with the Nehawu representatives and the SRC leadership today to plot a way forward.
Meanwhile, the University of KwaZulu-Natal said it was still proceeding with its decision to register all students via online platforms.
According to the university, no unregistered person was allowed on to campus. “Only registered students with 2021 UKZN access permits are allowed on to campus, and if registered for residence, can take up their residence place,” said Normah Zondo, acting executive director for UKZN's corporate relations division.
Zondo said that to date, more than 91% of their returning students and 51% of first-year students had registered successfully online.