/ 6 February 2008

Minister condemns protests by Durban students

Minister of Education Naledi Pandor on Wednesday condemned the recent student protests that have led to the closure of the Durban University of Technology (DUT).

”It is entirely unacceptable that a democratic right to protest is being perverted in this way,” Pandor said in a statement.

She said: ”While students and student organisations have a democratic right to protest, this right should never prevent other students from going about their normal university business or damage university property.”

On Monday students, police and security personnel clashed in running battles on the institution’s Steve Biko Campus in Durban, while university spokesperson Nomondi Mbadi said students at the Indumiso Campus in Imbali, Pietermaritzburg, had damaged windows and cars and had set tyres on fire.

The university has been wracked by a series of protests over fees, accommodation, transportation and poor security on the institution’s campuses.

Pandor said an agreement between students and management should be reached, which would ensure that needy students were helped and that, at the same time, would support the institution.

The university management claims that student debt at the institution was at R175-million — and R72-million of that was from the 2007 academic year alone.

Student representative council (SRC) president Mandla Shange said on Wednesday that the SRC would be meeting with management at 9am on Thursday.

He said the university’s debt problem was of its own making and that the institution needed to change the way it assessed students who received financial aid.

He said those students were assessed in April and usually only started receiving notifications from July onwards.

”We need to change the system of enrolment. It is very frustrating for students when they only know late in the year whether their application for financial assistance has been successful.

”They have been there for six months already before they know.”

He said the institution needed to have a more immediate system of determining whether a student qualified for financial assistance.

Earlier in the day, Young Communist League (YCL) spokesperson Castro Ngobese said in a statement that the R175-million debt was ”a manifestation of deep-seated and embedded corruption during the merger process”.

”Students cannot be used as sacrificial lambs in recovering the money and it is the responsibility of the institution to devise means and strategies to recover this R175-million debt.”

Late on Wednesday, DUT issued a short statement that read: ”This amount is due to the continuing roll-over of outstanding fees, and in no way from corruption at the institution.”

Ngobese said the YCL rejected ”irresponsible insinuations that the latest violent student protests were in demand of free education”.

”Ongoing student protests are informed by the university’s failure to provide leadership and adhere to the legitimate demands of students as they relate to the exorbitant registration fees, poor accommodation facilities and poor security at the campus,” Ngobese said.

”The DUT must respond to the demands of students instead of blackmailing the public through cheap and populist neo-liberal political rhetoric,” he said.

The university’s seven campuses closed their doors earlier this week after protesting students ”created a volatile and violent situation” during running battles with police.

Last week, university spokesperson Nomondi Mbadi said: ”This situation [of student debt] is unsustainable and the university cannot continue to roll over student debt as they [students] do not honour the acknowledgement of debt forms that they sign.”

University staff returned to work on Wednesday and Mbadi said their 20 000 students were expected to return on Monday. — Sapa