Huge cost to varsities

Pietermaritzburg - Fees may have fallen, but the cost to South African universities for damage to property has skyrocketed to over R300 million.

The University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN) was among the institutions that suffered the most damage, with its repair bill surging to about R82 million after violent protests erupted on its three campuses last year.

This is according to a report by Higher Education and Training Minister Blade Nzimande, which outlined the estimated cost of damage to property that occurred as a result of student protests in the 2015/2016 financial year.

“It cannot be acceptable that student protests are resulting in violence and destruction of the universities’ property that belongs to the public of South Africa and future generations to come,” Nzimande said.

“We have agreed that law enforcement agencies must work with us in protecting the property, students and the staff as a whole. We have been worried about a particular fringe within students who have captured and diverted genuine students’ demands for their own ends and are using violence and damaging property.”

According to the report, the North West University (NWU) suffered most, with costs of damaged property soaring to about R151 million.

In February this year, NWU students went on the rampage and caused widespread damage when they set fire to the administrative building at the university’s Mafikeng campus. The violence broke out shortly after the new Students’ Representative Council (SRC) was appointed.

The Witness last year reported that within only a week of intense clashes with security in September, rioting students at UKZN’s campuses caused damage amounting to about R30 million. Within that week — described by many UKZN students at the time as the most violent protests of the year — riots at the Pietermaritzburg campus alone resulted in a Toyota Quantum windshield being damaged, the Risk Management Service (RMS) office’s windows and doors being smashed with stones and a Toyota Avanza belonging to the campus clinic being toppled over and its doors damaged and windshield smashed.

UKZN spokesperson Lesiba Seshoka on Wednesday said the repair process is currently underway. Seshoka said the damaged university property included equipment, vehicles and infrastructure.

The major damage incurred at UKZN, which has been prioritised, includes fire and smoke damage to the MW Makgoba administration building, and a residence building on the Westville campus. “Currently, contractors are on site attending to some of the buildings that require restoration. In consultation with the approved contractor, the university was advised to expect the buildings to be ready for occupation in June 2016 and February 2017, respectively,” Seshoka said.

He emphasised that should the university be “unfortunate enough” to experience further protest action, “precautionary measures” would be taken to ensure the safety and security of staff and students, as well as to safeguard university property.

“Additional security staff, police and Public Order Policing form part of the University’s contingencies for protests where necessary,” Seshoka said.

The report listed 12 other universities that also suffered damage in student protests. The University of Western Cape’s damage cost around R46 million, while Tshwane University of Technology’s repair bill is about R5 million.

The University of South Africa (Unisa), the Central University of Technology, the Durban University of Technology (DUT) and the University of Fort Hare also felt the effect of the protests, but the costs of their damage are yet to be quantified.

• amil.umraw@witness.co.za