/ 7 August 2013

Lectures grind to a halt in crisis-hit Cida

Lectures Grind To A Halt In Crisis Hit Cida

Classes came to a grinding halt and lecturers and support staff deserted their posts in protest at not being paid for four months this year. This left students roaming the streets of Lyndhurst, Johannesburg where Cida is located, during school hours, some packing their bags and leaving for home and others killing time – as the institution’s library and two computers rooms were also closed.

The Mail & Guardian understands staff decided last Friday they would not go back to work until they were paid. "Things have become critical at work. This is the fourth month without pay. We’re now sitting home and we don’t know what will happen next," said a staffer who asked not to be named. She left Johannesburg last week for her home province due to the crisis.  

Founded by social entrepreneur Taddy Blecher in 1999 and celebrated as a groundbreaking education innovation to uplift thousands of poor black matriculants, Cida is now facing a devastating financial crisis and possible liquidation. The institution offers a bachelor of business administration degree programme to students it draws from disadvantaged communities across the country.

Cida’s directors, who took over from Blecher when he left under a cloud in 2007, filed for voluntary business rescue last November when dwindling donor funding depleted its coffers. Creditors that had not been paid for several months, which included the City of Johannesburg and the South African Revenue Service, wanted to liquidate the institution.   

No donors
Rob Devereux, a business rescue practitioner from company Strategic Turnaround Solutions, known as Sturns and responsible for rescuing Cida, told the M&G nonpayment of salaries was due to failure to attract donors.

“That’s where we are at the moment; donor funds are proving difficult to bring to the institution. But we’re exploring other avenues,” he said.

“We’ve attracted no new donors and we’ve seen reduction of funds from existing donors,” Devereux added.

A staffer who spoke to the M&G on condition of anonymity said the business rescue intervention is not a viable strategy for the donor-driven Cida. "When you tell the world you are ailing financially no one wants to come and assist you. We need to get out of business rescue soon."

Staff, which Devereux numbered at about 70, have been supportive of the intervention and working without salaries for months now, he said. “But you come to a point where you can only take so much. We don’t expect them to work for nothing.”

Their payment hangs on whether a lump-sum bailout is injected into Cida’s coffers soon, said Devereux. He said it looks promising that some relief could be on the way, but he would not say when that is likely to happen. "I can’t commit to what I don’t know. It’s dependent really on what comes in. Everyone wants a date, but I can’t give a date."

Devereux himself has “not been paid for a long time”, he said.

​As part of cost-cutting measures, Devereux cut the number of students at Cida from the original 743 to 400 in June. Over 300 were deregistered and kicked off campus.

But the remaining students are now also feeling the pinch. “The [business rescue] plan is not achieving anything for us. The problems we had are still persisting. In fact things are getting worse. It’s never happened before that lecturers desert classes and people do not come to work,” said a student.

Mbah Martin Njah, Cida’s executive dean, poured his heart out during an interview with the M&G, saying that the institution needs financial assistance from businesses to survive.

“Education is the only way to end intergenerational poverty. So, we’re making an appeal to black businesses, to multinational companies and persons of goodwill to come on board to assist us with scholarships and different forms of funding. We think the future is bright for Cida,” said Njah.

To date more than 1 700 students have graduated from the institution. Njah is well aware that Cida’s liquidation will also impact negatively on their qualifications.

"Cida has been doing a good job. More than 1 200 applied to come study here in the last academic year. But we were only able to give space to 184 for the bachelor degree programme and 124 for the foundation school,” he said.