Student council turns Turfloop turmoil

into profit

Andy Duffy

A cabal of students is running the University of the North (Turfloop)as a private business, spending millions of the cash-strapped institution’s funds and extorting protection money from outside firms working on the campus.

Documents leaked from the university this week, and confirmed by senior sources as accurate, claim the Student Representative Council (SRC) has overspent more than R6- million in the past three years - and is refusing to account for the expenditure. SRC members also allegedly charge outside businesses up to R30 000 protection.

Senior staff members, including one faculty head, have been marched off campus and forced to resign. Senior sources claim several other academics are being pressured to step down.

It is understood the SRC called on council last week for an investigation into problems on the campus - but focused only on the university’s management. The students have also forced council to agree to bar the university’s security company from the campus.

Vice-chancellor Njabulo Ndebele was off campus and unavailable for comment, and SRC president Gilbert Kganyago also could not be reached as the Mail & Guardian went to press. But insiders claim management has all but capitulated in its long- running battle with the SRC.

Ndebele leaves next month, after deciding against applying to have his five-year contract renewed. The same insiders claim the allegations concerning the SRC have been circulating for months, but few stakeholders have been prepared to speak out.

The document leaked to the M&G, attributed to a student who quit the campus in disgust, says the SRC is “only interested in serving their own interests on the gravy train”.

“There are freebees galore at Turfloop,” it reads. “There are self-enriching schemes in being an SRC member ... free tuition, free board and lastly, how can I forget, free food. Democracy at Turfloop, according to the SRC, dictates that they are the prosecutors, judges, jurors and investigators all in one ... students who are concerned are muzzled through kangaroo- style [courts] ... How long should such barbaric practices be tolerated?”

The SRC receives about R1,8-million a year from university funds, which it is supposed to spend on promoting student affairs. But the details of its expenditure have remained under wraps for years - until now.

In 1994, SRC members ran up a R500 000 bill for damage they inflicted on university vehicles; in 1995 they overspent by R1,5- million; in 1996 R2-million was overspent. No details of the expenditure were provided to university management. The SRC’s over- expenditure for 1997 is thought to be R2,5- million. One bill was for R500 000, for a musical festival in which no returns were declared.

Turfloop has had a long history of campus uproar. The battle in recent years has included students claiming Ndebele is blocking transformation at the university.

The campus is also regularly racked by confrontation over unpaid student fees. Latest Ministry of Education figures put unpaid student fees at the campus at R70- million. Student numbers, meanwhile, fell by nearly one-quarter in the three years to 1997, to 14 435, including postgraduates. Another sharp fall is expected this year.

Ndebele has so far refused to comment on his decision to step down. Insiders believe, however, that he has been sickened by his experience at Turfloop and is not optimistic about the campus’s long-term survival.

The contest to find his successor is also expected to be troubled. One academic claims more radical student elements want the decision left solely to them, and openly support the return of Dr Biki Minyuku, the former Turfloop registrar who left to join the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

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