An offer by the Africa Alliance of Young Men’s Christian Associations (AAYMCA) to purchase Cida City Campus was allegedly ignored by liquidators in January last year, former staff and students of the financially embattled and now closed university heard on Monday.
But it won’t be ignored for much longer. An urgent court order handed down on Thursday last week has interdicted the Johannesburg university’s liquidators from selling any of its assets and is forcing them to allow creditors, staff and students to vote on any offers made to purchase the historical university.
“We sent a letter of intent in December and sent an offer in January but we have not had any response,” Carlos Sanvee, general secretary of the AAYMCA told a gathering of about 30 staff and students outside the university’s Lyndhurst campus gates on Monday morning.
Since the university closed its doors in December, staff and its over 400 students have not been allowed back onto the campus.
They met on Monday under trees in a neighbouring park to hear what Sanvee had to say.
“At YMCA we empower young people in Africa [to be part of the] African Renaissance … From what we know about CIDA, it’s [mission] is close to this.”
The country’s first free university was founded in 1999, with the aim of uplifting disadvantaged black matriculants by offering them the chance to study Bachelor of Business Administration degrees.
But after its founder, Taddy Blecher, resigned in 2007 crucial donations to the institution dwindled and by last year it racked up a R30-million debt. By January, what was known by many as the pride of the nation was in its final phase of liquidation, guided by liquidators Johannes Muller and Eugene Januarie.
But after discovering that the liquidators had allegedly not been transparent about offers made to buy CIDA and keep it running as it was intended, 55 of the institution’s 68 former staff members, took the liquidators to court last week.
” … The Liquidators have acted in an increasingly uncompromising and obstructive manner, which appears to favour selling off the considerable moveable and immoveable assets of [CIDA] at the expense of the staff and the 430 indigent students, as well as future generations of indigent students who will likely have no other affordable education options in the near-term,” their affidavit reads.
On Thursday, the staff members, represented by the Legal Resources Centre, were awarded a judgment by the Johannesburg high court interdicting the liquidators from selling any of CIDA’s assets and forcing them to consult CIDA’s former staff and students on all offers made to buy the institution.
The liquidators did not respond to the Mail & Guardian‘s questions at the time of publishing but said they would respond at a later stage.
Offers on the table
Former staff member, Daniel Mncube, said there were now two offers on the table that he knew about: one by the AAYMCA and another by New York-based education firm called Africa Integras.
Mncube explained to the gathering that the liquidators have been ordered to meet with “creditors’ including staff and students on 13 February to discuss all of the offers.
The liquidators then have seven days to implement whatever offer the creditors choose. If they disagree with what is chosen, the matter will be heard in court again on 22 February.
“You need to support us in this creditors meeting. This meeting is not about us, it is about you, the youth,” Mncube told the gathering.
He then asked the staff if classes could resume at the beginning of March, if all went according to plan.
“I don’t think there would be a problem with that,” one staff member replied.
But Sanvee, who flew from Kenya to Johannesburg to speak to staff and students and find out why his correspondence was ignored by the liquidators, said his offer still needs work.
“We first need to assess if the same problem is going to happen again … I can’t say when we will be ready to go. I haven’t seen the buildings, I don’t have the information …”
Mncube said it would be “ideal” if Africa Integras and AAYMCA “came together with a proposal because YMCA is strong with academics and Integras is strong with buildings … at CIDA our buildings are not conducive to learning”.
Former student, Tiffany Phakathi, told the M&G that December was “the worst December ever”.
“We got a WhatsApp message in November saying the university was closing but we thought it was a hoax … Then in December they asked us to come get our academic transcripts and we knew it [closure] was for real.”
A second student, Zinhle Mbili, said the thought “of not knowing what we were going to do next was the worst”.
“After two years … starting all over again,” said Nomvelo Dludlu, a student representative council member.
Phakhati said the students had worked hard to keep the institution going. “In 2013 the staff left because they hadn’t been paid so we did all the work. The students cooked, cleaned the campus, did shifts as security guards and the senior students gave classes to the junior students… all while trying to study.”
Shadrack Senyame, another student, said the students were excited about the court interdict. “We can’t afford to lose this historic institution.”
Benjamin Tshefu, another student, the matter “was fairly judged … we knew there was something wrong with what the liquidators were doing”.
But Phakhati cautioned that AAYMCA would need to find out what students “needed financially before it made a solid offer”.
“I think it’s best if they meet with us, find out what we need, find out about the campus, the buildings, what is there,” she said.
Tshefu said: “What they do, they must consult the students.”