Con leaves students homeless

2019-02-05 15:12
A university Risk Management Services vehicle was turned over and set alight by protesters at UKZN’s Westville campus on Monday.

A university Risk Management Services vehicle was turned over and set alight by protesters at UKZN’s Westville campus on Monday.

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Students at UKZN’s Pietermaritzburg campus have vowed to disrupt academic activities until students who were allegedly victims of a multi-million rand residence placement scandal are housed.

The campus’ student representative council (SRC) has alleged that members of UKZN’s student affairs department had charged unknowing students for placement in residences for this year, even though these places apparently did not exist. The SRC alleged about 500 students are now without a place to stay because of the “fraud”, claiming UKZN was probing the allegations and has already found there to be a multi-million rand racket.

The Pietermaritzburg SRC on Monday led a group of students in protest over this and other issues related to fees, where they disrupted lectures, against a backdrop of first-day chaos at KwaZulu-Natal universities.

Protesting students at UKZN in Durban blockaded entrances to the university’s various campuses. A Risk Management Services vehicle was set alight and fixtures were toppled at the Westville campus, according to reports on social media, as protesting students squared off with police.

In a memorandum to management, seen by The Witness, the central SRC said students were being “chased away” because there were no places.

The SRC also asked that students who did not even apply for residence “due to various reasons” be placed.

An SRC member at the Pietermaritzburg campus who did not want to be named told The Witness, “Students are stranded. Some are forced to sleep on the floor at friends’ places.

“They are coming to UKZN to find their rooms are locked. We demand the university fixes this because students are being punished for something they didn’t do.”

Thandeka Luyanda Ncube, a first-year student who has travelled from Vryheid to study at UKZN said she was one of those affected by the residence placement. “I was accepted for residence and I thought that when I got here I would be sorted into a residence, but they told me there is nothing available.”

Ncube, who travelled to Pietermaritzburg last week, has had to live with a family in Imbali because she has nowhere else to go.

“I am struggling to pay for transport from Imbali to campus. This is a really scary situation and if it’s not sorted out soon I will have to go back home.”

The SRC is also against a 10% increase in fees as well as a 50% minimum initial payment of a student’s total fees before registration.

“UKZN is increasing its fees to try to cover the cost it suffered by corruption here; it also includes the cost of investigating the medical school. And NSFAS bursaries don’t increase to meet fee increases,” the SRC member said.

The Witness previously reported that the financial strain of UKZN’s investigation into corruption at the medical school was expected to run to R156 million by the end of last year, with no end in sight. The SRC member added: “We want management to provide housing to students left stranded, and also to register those who haven’t paid previous years’ fees yet, so long as they commit to paying them.”

UKZN did not respond to specific questions, but in a statement confirmed that the academic programme has been suspended “until further notice”.

“University management has received a memorandum of grievances from the … SRC. The suspension will allow management space to engage with student leadership and address matters whilst ensuring the safety and security of all concerned,” acting spokesperson Normah Zondo said.

A UKZN lecturer, who asked not to be named, said the university’s academic programme was suffering because of its “tradition of protesting”.

“We plan and develop our curriculums and the uncertainty affects the pace with which we can engage students. Sometimes we have to take shortcuts or make students study on their own and teaching doesn’t happen as you envisaged.

“It’s demoralising and we can’t get through a year without protesting. We will never see the end of it.”

Students at the Durban University of Technology’s Riverside campus had staged a similar protest on Monday, shutting down academic activity.

DUT said on Monday afternoon that it was having a meeting with students about their issues.

The DA, meanwhile, criticised student leaderships for failing to deal with “ongoing concerns” in the last academic year, leading to Monday’s protests

Read more on:    pietermaritzburg

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