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The Covid-19 pandemic has tremendously impacted our student community by drawing bold lines that essentially deprive us of physical interactions, which used to define a vibrant student life known for its enriching experience through socialisation with one’s peers, while developing skills needed for university and beyond.

Under normal circumstances, student societies, clubs and political organisations would engage in various cocurricular activities and robust debates to sharpen each other’s social interaction skills and tools of analysis.

However, there seems to be a decline in such engagements under Covid-19 pandemic.

The pandemic’s impact on the seemingly mundane yet extremely vital overall ability to interact socially and mask-tomask in large groups has been greatly hindered. The impact of this cannot be downplayed.

Each year, we welcome new students to our campuses, who are embarking on a very important stage of their growth and development.

This is where young people transition from the much more guarded school life to a relatively more independent university or college life.

A huge part of that transition is anchored on the orientation programme, which includes getting to know the campuses at which students would spend the bulk of their day.

With the restrictions to gatherings and on-campus activity, and a greater focus on online learning and teaching, this cohort of students has been robbed of what is considered the very essence of university life.

We have also seen how the pandemic has affected sport, which is one of the most critical components of student life.

Not only has the ability to partake in contact sport, in the main, been affected, but also the opportunity for sport lovers and spectators to attend sporting events in support of their teams and peers.

While every effort has been made to ensure the continuation of student activities as safely as possible, it is just not the same.

This is the third term of the 2021 academic year that we are still navigating through the uncharted waters of a global pandemic, which has fundamentally impacted how we live and learn since March 2020.

University life, as we know it, has drastically changed. The coronavirus presents an unprecedented challenge to higher education and health in general, and Nelson Mandela University is not immune to that.

To ensure that we stop the spread of Covid-19, we will require a significant percentage of our population to be immunised against the virus.

The disruption caused by Covid-19 on people’s livelihoods is devastating and longlasting.

The World Health Organisation reported that tens of millions of people are at risk of falling into extreme poverty, while the number of undernourished people, currently estimated at nearly 690-million, could increase by up to 132million by the end of the year.

The Nelson Mandela University Student Representative Council also, and particularly, welcomed the decision of Cabinet to open registration and vaccination of people aged 18 to 34 from August 20 2021.

We are social beings who come to university and learn how to live and interact with others in a social milieu. Online learning denies us this opportunity to interact with a vibrant student community.

It is through co-curricular programmes that students get to develop a sense of agency and self-development. By focusing on student life beyond the lecture room, students are able to find their purpose and passion, and foster their inner voice.

While assessing things on the ground, we learnt that students are visibly eager to be on campus. However, due to Covid-19 health and safety protocols, being on campus is not possible for all students.

Cognisant of the country being on lockdown alert level 3, our university is primarily granting access to campus to those students who need to be on site to fulfil their academic obligations.

It is only after the university has reached a certain level of herd immunity that we might see some degree of normalcy, where students will be allowed to be on campus to attend mask-to-mask classes and interact with both their peers and lecturers.

It is against this background that, as the Mandela SRC, we encourage students, many of whom fall within the age group of 18-34, to register to take the vaccines.

It is important to get as many people as possible vaccinated to reach herd immunity, which will see the opening of more sectors of the economy as well as a greater degree of movement socially.

Herd immunity may provide indirect protection to those who are not immune to the disease.

We are quite encouraged by the many citizens, including our university’s staff and students, who have already jumped at the opportunity to be vaccinated, as seen by the activities at the vaccination sites at our North Campus.

Our SRC members were also among the first group of students to grab their first jab of the Pfizer vaccine to protect themselves and protect our most vulnerable.

Those who are yet to register and take up vaccines are encouraged to play their part to assist the university and our communities in general to reach herd immunity to increase our chances of returning to some semblance of normalcy.

This article appeared in The Herald (South Africa) on 8 September 2021, written by Pontsho Hlongwane, Nelson Mandela University’s Student Representative Council president, and a third-year LLB student.


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Ms Zandile Mbabela
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Tel: 0415042777