/ 17 September 2010

UKZN privatisation dispute rolls on

Students incensed by apparent privatisation plans at the University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN) were due to continue protests on Thursday and Friday.

They say a council meeting on Friday will discuss plans to put UKZN residences in the hands of a private company.

The Mail & Guardian reported last week that rumours of privatisation and inevitable future increases in residence costs ignited student protests that severely disrupted lectures though the week. Classes resumed this week, but students told the M&G they have no intention of letting the matter rest.

University management continues to deny that privatisation is an option to increase the amount of on-campus accommodation for students.

The dispute centres on what exactly was decided at two meetings of the council’s finance committee in August. UKZN management and some members of the central SRC say privatisation was discussed there but rejected. The South African Students Congress (Sasco), the ANC Youth League and the Young Communist League say they have proof that minutes of those meeting do not reflect what was actually decided and what therefore a meeting of the full council is still to consider.

Since last week’s report, the M&G has obtained from UKZN management a short extract of “draft and unconfirmed” minutes of the council finance meetings on August 16 and 20.

These summarise a presentation by the university’s wholly owned company UKZN Innovation, which the minutes say would “develop a Housing Company”. This company would collect residence fees, raise funds, design and develop rooms and be responsible for infrastructure.

Sandile Phakathi, Sasco’s KwaZulu-Natal chairperson, said no students or staff would be involved in setting fees. “What this boils down to is privatisation,” he told the M&G.

“Like any other private company those people will determine their own accommodation fees,” Phakathi said. Sasco was planning to picket outside the council chamber meeting on Friday.

On Monday council chairman Mac Mia issued a statement saying that documents deriving from the August finance committee meeting were “not on the agenda” for this Friday’s council meeting.