Fees Must Fall: Conflict of interest brewing

AN ENORMOUS conflict of interest is brewing at the heart of Wits University’s “Fees Must Fall” campaign as it emerges that the new president of the student representative council (SRC) is also an employee of the ANC.

Nompendulo (Ulo) Mkatshwa, whose term began on Sunday, works as a researcher at Luthuli House when not attending lectures.

However, students who voted the 22-year-old into her new position were not made aware of this side of her life when she campaigned for the SRC presidency on an array of issues. Interestingly, “no fees” was not one of them.

It was her predecessor, Shaeera Kalla, who first called for fees to be abolished on October 13, and who initiated protests at the university.

Little was known about Mkatshwa then, but days later she stepped into the limelight at Kalla’s side as the incoming president, eager to pick up the baton.

How she now intends playing both cards over the coming 12 months, when the “Fees Must Fall” campaign gets into full swing, is not clear, as her loyalty to one side over the other could be detrimental.

In a very brief conversation with the Financial Mail on Sunday, hours after she stepped into Kalla’s shoes, she described her life as precarious at present, “putting out fires and ducking stun grenades”. But she was adamant that this would not deter her from rolling out the next phase of the project: starting a nationwide campaign, headed by a national leader, that will ensure that 2016 will mark the beginning of free varsity education.

Despite agreeing to a full interview later in the day, Mkatshwa refused to take calls or respond to messages. When she was asked by SMS what her job at ANC headquarters entailed, she declined to answer.

However, her colleagues at Luthuli House confirmed she is a member of a research unit. One added: “I’m not sure what time Comrade Mkatshwa is coming in today. She is usually here, but she is not here now. Call back later.”

It is unknown whether it is a paid position she holds.

Though Mkatshwa may not have disclosed her ANC work during her campaign to be elected to the SRC, to her credit she has consistently worn her political colours on her sleeve.

She cut some striking poses on the front line of student marches in the past few weeks, with her right fist raised in a revolutionary salute, but always with an ANC-emblazoned shirt on her back or a green, black and gold bandana wrapped around her head.

She has also noted, on her Facebook page, her role as an ANC researcher focusing on local business.

Like many of the frontline campaigners for free education, Mkatshwa has lived a comfortable life and has been afforded a good education. She is the daughter of two senior public servants in government (her mother works with the SA Local Government Association while her stepfather is a senior forensic investigator with the Public Service Commission). She attended Pretoria Girls’ High School, where fees are higher than varsity fees, sitting at R31 300 for the coming year.

She matriculated in 2011 with a couple of distinctions and when she enrolled at Wits the following year, she was a member of the ANC Youth League. In 2013 she was elected chair of the university’s branch of the SA Students Congress (Sasco).

In her latest incarnation, she has impressed her peers as well as university management. She is described as forthright, affable and strong on her convictions.

However, she has failed to rein in some of the more radical elements of the “no fees” movement on campus and when they insisted on joining students from the University of Johannesburg in their march to Luthuli House at the end of last month, she was initially against the move.

She lost that battle and fell into step, but not before alerting Luthuli House that the students were en route.

And when she handed over the memorandum of demands to ANC secretary-general Gwede Mantashe later that day on behalf of the student movement, and under the glare of the country’s media, she was essentially liaising with her boss.

Though Wits vice-chancellor Adam Habib has worked closely with Mkatshwa in the past few weeks, he was unaware of her research duties at Luthuli House, though, like everyone, he knew she was an ANC supporter.

Leave a Comment