Nzimande must act on university violence - DA

2016-05-20 14:05

Cape Town - Higher Education Minister Blade Nzimande must urgently tell the country what he is doing about arson attacks and violent protests at university campuses around the country, the Democratic Alliance said on Friday. 

The DA also wanted to know where the estimated R400m, needed to cover the financial losses sustained this year and during last year's #FeesMustFall protests, would be coming from.

The government had estimated that the damage caused during the #FeesMustFall protests would cost around R300m to repair and expected that universities would shoulder the costs and get some assistance from insurance, said DA MP Belinda Bozzoli, a former Wits deputy vice chancellor.

But where would it get the money for the damages caused by the ongoing protests, which include R100m in damage to the University of Johannesburg's auditorium which was torched earlier this month, she asked.

Bozzoli also wanted to know where Nzimande was, as protests intensified at the University of Fort Hare. Centenary celebrations, including a grand event on Friday to be attended by President Jacob Zuma and Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe, are scheduled to take place at the university.

'Highly disturbing'

Nzimande's spokesperson Khaye Nkwanyane said the minister had gone to the US to attend a meeting about an important research and information exchange collaboration with 15 universities there. But he was "highly disturbed" by developments in the university sector.

Nkwanyane said that it could cost at least half a billion rand to repair the buildings and replace equipment damaged in what the department regarded as "targeted attacks".

This was money that had not been budgeted for during an already lean time. A lot of the equipment had to be imported and the exchange rate was going to push prices up, he added.

To find the money the universities might have to cut back on some research grants and money would have to be shifted around in the department's budget. These "virements" (transfers of budgeted funds) were frowned upon and required an administrative process. 

He said it seemed that the intention of the protesters was to target institutions and collapse the system; and no matter what the department did, the protests continued.

Call for defence of institutions

"We have done everything," said Nkwanyane, as reports came through that students were barricading the entrance to the University of Fort Hare in a dispute primarily over funding for student accommodation.

This included setting aside R2.3bn to cover free education for those who qualified, and another R4.5bn to service National Students Financial Aid Scheme arrears.

President Jacob Zuma had established a task team to look into student grievances, but instead of taking grievances to the task team, small groups of people were trying to destroy the system in actions not seen anywhere else in the world, he continued.

"We call on the whole country to defend our institutions and defend our system," he said.

The cost of the damage at universities was in addition to the estimated R750m needed to repair at least 24 schools burnt down by protesters during a demarcation dispute in Vuwani. During these attacks, at least 50 schools were closed down. The damage included the loss of school records, among them matriculants' records.

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