Lockdown: Top attorney threatens legal action to get KZN universities reopened

Students work during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Students work during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Getty Images
  • Prominent attorney Comfort Ngidi has written to three KZN universities to get them to reopen.
  • He has children studying at three top KZN universities. 
  • Universities are undergoing phased reopenings.


Prominent attorney Comfort Ngidi is threatening legal action against KwaZulu-Natal's three top universities if lectures do not resume soon under alert level three.

Ngidi, the father of four students, who attend the University of KwaZulu-Natal, the Durban University of Technology and Mangosuthu University of Technology, said he will be left with no other option but to go to court if lectures for senior and post graduate students do not resume.

In a letter sent to the institutions by Ngidi and Company Incorporated, the universities were given five days to call a parents meeting to deliberate on the grounds for the continued closures.

Alternatively, Ngidi said they had to provide a detailed plan of their opening programmes.

Ngidi is a well-known attorney who was a candidate for the state capture commission of inquiry’s legal and investigative teams.

He said he could not understand why the universities had been slow in formulating a plan for the staggered return of a maximum of 33% of the student population as announced by Higher Education, Science and Innovation Minister Blade Nzimande.

Wits' end

He added that he was at his wits’ end as several efforts to engage the universities on when lectures would resume, went unanswered.

"When we were put under level three, we were told universities can resume work in a phased manner," Ngidi said.

"These universities in KZN have not done that. They are just quiet and all they talk about is online learning. My argument is that they don’t have the technical know-how for distance education. If I wanted my children to do distance education, I would have sent them to Unisa.

"I sent my children to a contact university because I want them to learn to socialise with other students, create friends and business networks beyond the university and I’m paying the premium price."

READ | UCT's 'racist academic paper' furore: both sides have their say

In the letter, Ngidi said: "The principal is called upon to provide reasons why our client together with other parents cannot approach the high court or the public protector to obtain the appropriate order to compel the university to open its premises and resume lectures for senior and post graduate students.

"The principal is called upon to explain why the university cannot be compelled to refund students’ fees for the period under which the university is closed without any legal basis or sound, scientific and rational reason."

Ngidi said it was unfair for the universities to remain shut while parents paid tuition fees.

"The delay that is happening is hitting our pockets directly. Even the national student financial aid scheme is paid for by us taxpayers.

Burden

"These students must be allowed to continue so that the burden is reduced on the taxpayers' side, otherwise, we should be given a refund.

"The tuition fee is too much. I have not changed my car in the last five years because of the financial burden.

"I pay a lot. They can’t be sitting at home and idling."

He said he wanted the institutions to give exact dates of when lectures would resume.

"If not, I’m taking them to court. We’re all outraged by the action of the university. Judges are at work; doctors are even worse.

"Why should lecturers be an exception? If Grade seven and 12 pupils can be educated to keep social distancing measures, how would a university student fail?"

Ngidi said online learning that has been rolled out by the institutions had proved to be a "complete disaster". 

“It’s just not working. I’m very agitated. I bought my children laptops, but they are just not doing anything.

"What is upsetting me is that the universities are denying some of these children the opportunity of being the first graduates in their family."

Alan Khan, DUT’s senior director of corporate affairs, confirmed that the university had received the letter and said that their legal office is preparing a response. Khan said as per directive from the Higher Education and Training Department, all final year students requiring clinical training in the faculty of health sciences returned to campus on 8 June.

He said the university is expecting a further 10 000 students in selected programmes — most of whom are in their final year of studies — to return to campuses this week.

Mangosuthu Durban University of Technology and UKZN did not respond to a media query.

Lockdown For
DAYS
HRS
MINS
Voting Booth
South Africa has over 150 000 Covid-19 cases. Do you know someone who has been infected?
Please select an option Oops! Something went wrong, please try again later.
Results
Yes I do
27% - 3626 votes
Yes, more than one person
24% - 3283 votes
No I don't
49% - 6555 votes
Vote
ZAR/USD
17.00
(-0.09)
ZAR/GBP
21.24
(-0.12)
ZAR/EUR
19.14
(-0.13)
ZAR/AUD
11.81
(-0.13)
ZAR/JPY
0.16
(-0.20)
Gold
1774.74
(+0.03)
Silver
18.05
(+0.01)
Platinum
808.00
(+0.25)
Brent Crude
42.78
(-0.79)
Palladium
1914.01
(+0.62)
All Share
54521.90
(-0.17)
Top 40
50179.89
(-0.26)
Financial 15
10150.02
(-0.64)
Industrial 25
76554.73
(+0.52)
Resource 10
50138.02
(-1.24)
All JSE data delayed by at least 15 minutes morningstar logo