Punches flew in the Tshwane municipality’s headquarters in the Pretoria city centre on Wednesday as students and informal traders stormed the building‚ demanding answers on the halted bursary scheme introduced by the previous administration.
A group of men said to be from Tshwane Metro Police Department’s VIP protection unit also used pepper spray to force the group of about 100 students and their parents out of the building.
Fikile Sekwadi‚ a 32-year-old trader whose younger sister is a beneficiary of the fund‚ said she was punched in the face‚ kicked and pepper sprayed.
“All we wanted was for the officials to explain to the students what happened to their bursaries. Instead we were brutalised like animals” she said.
Former Tshwane mayor Kgosientsho Ramokgopa introduced the Informal Traders Bursary Fund in 2015 but the traders affiliated to Tshwane Barekisi Forum claim the bursary fund‚ which was hailed as progressive in breaking the cycle of poverty‚ screeched to a halt when the current mayor‚ Solly Msimanga‚ took over.
This left 104 beneficiaries in limbo‚ despite R740‚000 raised by the traders.
Many students have since been kicked out of their academic programmes due to non-payment.
Mary Ngema‚ secretary of the forum‚ said Msimanga was sitting on the funds.
“When we ask why they were not paying we are given promises of payment that never materialise. Now we come here‚ they attack us. This administration will know who we are. This is not over‚” she said angrily.
Tebogo Sekwadi completed her 1-year traffic policing certificate last year but was unable to get her certificate as she owed the college more than R3‚000.
She is now working as a cleaner to raise funds to pay the college to get her certificate.
Samkelo Mgobozi‚ Msimanga’s spokesperson‚ said the bursary scheme was a great initiative abused by the previous administration for political points.
He said the fund was not properly managed by the former administration and that they were looking at ways to restructure the programme to ensure that it was sustainable.
Mgobozi said they were reconfiguring the selection criteria and management of the scheme and would make an announcement once the process was completed.
“The mayor has committed himself to match every amount the traders raise‚ up to R1-million from the mayor’s discretionary fund‚” Mgobozi said.
He said at the beginning of the 2016 academic year‚ there were not enough funds and that the students and the then mayor had used R3.2-million from the discretionary fund to cover the shortfall.
“This demonstrates that the Bursary Fund had totally failed to live up to its expectations‚ and the expectations created had to be funded through the City funds‚ which was never part of the plan‚” he said.