Solly Msimanga speaks on student issues

MARKO SVICEVIC AND POOJA PUNDIT

Solly Msimanga, Executive Mayor of the City of Tshwane and UP graduate, has held office since mid-2016 when the Democratic Alliance, in conjunction with support from the EFF, took over the leadership of the city. Perdeby spoke to the Executive Mayor about numerous issues regarding the city, including issues facing students in Hatfield.

 

You were recently quoted in mainstream media as saying that the City of Tshwane could no longer afford Tshwane WiFi (TshWiFi). What does this mean? Will TshWiFi services continue as usual? Will it be monetised? Does your administration have a plan to continue this service?
Let me state categorically that we don’t have an intention in stopping the service, and it has been [a] part of our manifesto – it’s [a] part of the DA’s vision to have a connected city. So what has been paddled is just complete lies about us and obviously politics – people are playing politics.

What we have said is that the Auditor General has raised concern about how the contract was entered into in the first place. It is actually a finding by the Auditor General that we have spent more than R200 million of tax payers’ money on Wi-Fi, and we have gone about it the wrong way, so what we are saying is we want to find a way of ensuring that we comply with all the regulations in the Municipal Finance Management Act, and all other related regulations that are to be complied with. So what we have done behind the scenes is we have contacted service providers and potential service providers to say how do we go about ensuring that we can continue with the service, but that will not infringe or not go against the required regulations. The service providers have told us that we actually can get the service free to the city because the city already owns the infrastructure. We can, going forward, actually make money out of the system but not out of the users, not out of the residents because, like what you’re doing with Facebook, you’re using Facebook but not paying for it – so that is the same thing. They will be able to sell advertising space – that’s how they’ll be able to generate money and the city will be able to generate money, which will then mean that we can also cover areas that haven’t been covered by the Wi-Fi.

There are certain areas that haven’t been covered, certain areas like Hamanskraal and Bronkhorspruit. What we’re saying is that we want to make sure that these areas are covered, but the system will pay for itself. It will be much quicker. We want to make sure that it’s able to be much quicker than what it is right now, and so upgrades of the system and also ensuring that it covers a whole lot more people than what it is currently able to do. So our plan is to make it better, not to shut it down.

 

The issue of accommodation for university students has been raised numerous times. Recently we’ve seen protest action at TUT, as well as the #UPResCrisis issue relating to affordable and accessible student accommodation. The University of Pretoria (UP) recently issued a statement saying that it can only accommodate 15% of the student body in its residences. Does your administration have any plans in order to alleviate the pressure regarding student accommodation?
Education falls outside the ambit of local government, outside of what we are actually required to do. But we will be playing our part to ensure that, given the fact that we are the host of the biggest concentration of institutions of higher learning, we have to find a way of playing our part. What we’re looking at is to incentivise developers to look into building more affordable student accommodation, and we also are looking at how we will be able to reduce the rates and taxes that these developers are paying to the city, so that the residents of those units will also not be burdened with carrying that cost. What it boils down to is that if you’re paying rates and taxes that are high to the owner, the owner then passes it onto the students, who are then the residents. We [are] also incentivising and attracting more people who are looking at building student accommodation – if you go to Hatfield right now there’s two new facilities that have been built that are just for student accommodation. We’re looking at doing that in Pretoria West as well. We’re looking at six residences in Pretoria West and another one around the Marabastad area. I’ve also engaged with Professor De la Rey [UP Vice-Chancellor and Principal] in terms of how we will be able to assist in Mamelodi with accommodation for those students [...] so it’s our duty to make sure that we provide affordable accommodation.

 

Last year the UP council decided to amend the university’s language policy, making English the only language of tuition. This came shortly after the #AfrikaansMustFall movement at UP and was also followed by several other universities making similar decisions. Do you support the move to English-only tuition at universities, and specifically at UP?
I’ll give you my personal opinion, which is very well-documented. I’ve actually even written an article on that. I’ve said that you will not be able to demolish a language in order to fill a gap for a language that hasn’t been well-developed. I have said what we needed to do instead of abolishing a certain language is to look into how do we promote other languages – the diversity thereof. Because to then say you don’t want a language at an institution amounts to, in the long run, sabotaging everything that institution is all about. I mean after to say no to Afrikaans, are you going to say no to English? After you’ve abolished Afrikaans, are you going to abolish English? So what I’ve said is what we need to do is, and this is where government has failed, is to ensure we invest heavily in the development of indigenous languages.

I’ve made an example to say since the days of the National Party what they have done is to make sure that they are able to study, translate and develop new material, translated from English, which was the predominant university’s language before apartheid. They were able to translate that and develop languages and ensure that a child will be able to go from pre-school up to a professor level learning in Afrikaans. What we need to do is prioritise and pump money into the development and training of facilitators, authors and lecturers who will be able to assist us in ensuring that a child will be able to learn in Zulu from pre-school up to wherever the case. That is how we need to be thinking and that is how in my view we need to be approaching this, because it cannot be that you say you want to abolish one language over another.

What’s next that you want to abolish? What we need to do is ask how do we bring diversity. Yes, it cannot be that language is used to bar people from accessing opportunities, so you cannot really run a 50:50 class in a certain language – for instance you can’t run an Accounting class where 60% of your students are non-Afrikaans-speaking and then want to run it in Afrikaans. So there needs to be that balance, but at the same time we need to ensure that we promote languages and we are trying to develop literature around the language from a school level up to university level – you would still be able to get that material. Right now I don’t know of any Economics book that is written in any other language except in English and Afrikaans.

 

Currently the Hatfield area experiences large amounts of traffic and one of the largest problems students face is parking. Does your administration have any plans to alleviate the parking issues around UP campuses, specifically the Hatfield campus? A further issue faced here is that students end up parking on non-parking areas, leading to many parking tickets.
There’s a conundrum here. In order to have an upkeep of a particular area you need to leverage some kind of levies – parking will be a way to generate revenue. Now, we understand that it’s not always a nice thing to have where we say we will have a dedicated parking zone because there needs to be an upkeep of that particular area. So if we’re going to develop that, and this has been the proposal to say we will develop parking spaces or parking zones, but there is a cost that comes with it. Someone will have to pay at some point. The university is not willing to carry that cost because it falls outside of the boundaries of the university, so now comes the question of who will carry that cost.

What we’re looking at is ensuring that as much as we want to assist with student parking, what we will have to do is to clear up the spaces, pave it and have it as a municipal dedicated parking, but that will then mean that students will have to pay. That is something we will be able to do and also provide some security for that. What we want to do is have peace officers or warrens who are walking around with hand-held meters guarding cars but also they will be paid a certain amount.

 

The Hatfield area has always seen a high number of crimes committed against students. These usually include petty crimes, but are not limited to such crimes. What has your administration done to curb crimes committed against students, particularly in the Hatfield area?
Within campus there’s not much we can do because the campus as much as [it is] a public entity will be regarded as private property. But outside we are doing much. I mean we are now introducing the bicycle unit in the metro police, so you will have more metro police visible everyday, all day on bicycles around the Hatfield area. You will also see that we will be installing quite a number of cameras, street cameras as well, so that [is] something that is also coming to your business areas of Hatfield where UP is, and the streets around the particular area. We are making sure [that] we install more cameras to monitor what is happening there. We are also ensuring [that] we have peace officers which will be trained to not only look after cars, but will be able to monitor what is happening in a particular block in terms of safety and security.

These peace officers will be vetted, and will also be able to collect revenue for the city in terms of the parking meters. It’s a long process of vetting, but it will also help in terms of employing people this way, ensuring they have means of providing for themselves aside from committing crime.

 

The recently implemented A Re Yeng transport system is expected to greatly assist commuting students. What benefits do you think students gain from this? Are there reduced prices planned for students? Are there any plans to extend the reach of A Re Yeng to students/persons staying further away from the CBD?
I must say that A Re Yeng at the moment is a big problem. It’s a big black hole; the system is costing the city R9 million every month. I would say at the moment [that] A Re Yeng is a bit of a challenge because of its implementation not generating income, but actually working at a loss. The city is losing R9 million every month just to keep the system. It’s part of a big challenge in which we are trying to determine how to go forward with the system at the moment. Right now we can’t really talk about discounts because it is just a nightmare.

 

 The #FeesMustFall movement last year saw many institutions of higher education shut down for long periods of time. UP was also impacted by the movement. Have you been in collaboration with UP regarding how to deal with such situations, should they arise this year?
Education falls outside the ambit of what we do, but I’ve seen it in myself to try and assist and we have now donated money to institutions to assist students. We are going to be giving R250 000 to Tshwane South College and Tshwane North College. We are further going to give UNISA, TUT and UP R500 000 each. This is our contribution towards assisting students. I know it’s not much and falls outside of what we do, but we felt we cannot just fold our arms and sit on the side-lines and for us it’s part of getting involved.

 

Last year saw the call for free higher education having a national impact on South Africa’s universities. The Commission into the Feasibility of Fee-Free Higher Education is expected to release its report later this year. What is your take on free education and its feasibility?
The notion of free education is not as simple as people want to make it. You need to look at where the resources are going to come from for it to be made possible. It’s not a matter of cutting here to give money there. You need to say where are you cutting for this money to come from. There are people making comparisons of countries that are heavily subsidising education, but when you trace where those countries are getting their resources from, some of them coming from a dedicated sector like mining will be heavily funding student education. South Africa is not doing that very well, asking where the money will come from when it comes to its finances. Are we going to stop some other social funding – building houses, providing water and electricity or social grants – to pay for education? Is it really feasible is the question. I do believe [that] we need to make space for those students that are deserving but cannot really afford [higher education], but there are also those that are just taking advantage. Those that come from well-off families should pay more to subsidise education, those that can afford to pay must pay, those that cannot afford to pay and generally afford to pay we need to subsidise. It cannot be a one-size-fits-all because at the end of the day you will not have a quality education system [that is] able to run.

 

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