Future of Cida and its students still on hold

Mpume Nkabini, a student at the fee-free, but now liquidation-threatened Cida City Campus, broke down in tears on Friday after absorbing a verdict of the master of the High Court in Johannesburg postponing a meeting scheduled to decide the future of the institution.

As per ruling of Judge Bashier Vally in the same court two weeks ago, the meeting on Friday was convened by Master Leonard Pule in Johannesburg between the provisional liquidators, creditors that Cida owes and potential buyers. 

The intention of the meeting was to allow creditors to vote on whether or not they accept a particular offer to rescue Cida, and thus allow the institution to open doors again. The Lyndhurst-based institution which offers a bachelor of administration degree to more than 400 students has been closed since December and continuing students have not registered. 

But once the meeting got into full swing, the men and women who filled to Pule’s boardroom to capacity could not reach consensus on what should happen in the meeting. Elegantly dressed businesspeople and lawyers, joined Cida staff members who were owed salaries for many months. Also in attendance were a few interested buyers. 

The businesspeople and lawyers opposed the agenda of the meeting and questioned whether all in attendance were authentic creditors and eligible to vote. “But how can all the creditors be here? The meeting hasn’t even been publicly advertised for at least 10 days [as required by law]?” asked one.  

But some businesspeople and staff members, who are also classified as creditors because they have not been paid salaries for many months, argued everyone in the meeting was a creditor and therefore eligible to vote. 

“I just want us to continue with the business of the day,” Cida lecturer Daniel Mncube told Pule. 

“The Master should also consider that we have students who have to return to class as soon as possible. Now …  they are waiting at home. We’d want to see them back at school. I also want to know the interest of those who are now nullifying the decision of the judge (Vally).”

George Dzadza, also a lecturer at the institution, said it was “very unfair” that some creditors sent lawyers to the meeting, who in turn diverted it from what it was scheduled to achieve.  

“We didn’t bring our legal experts because we knew we’re coming to vote, not to re-run [a court hearing]. People have brought their legal experts. We came here to vote, so if there’s anything [other than] that it’s unfair to us.”

After listening to arguments, Pule ruled to postpone the meeting. He said this was to allow creditors to submit claims to his office, an exercise that would help ascertain their authenticity and eligibility to vote. “How are we going to know we have real creditors in this meeting? That is a concern.

“I have difficulty in continuing with the business of today. We want to be sitting here with real creditors. It is difficult where we’re sitting to know with certainty whoever is representing the creditors,” Pule said. 

He said the meeting was therefore being adjourned “in order to allow creditors to submit a particular claim”. Pule will communicate a new date to all involved. 

But it was outside the master of the court on Marshall Street where dejected students and the now unemployed Cida staff caucused. 

A staff member drew the Mail & Guardian to the crying Nkabini. “You see what happens to our children when things like this happen. Other students are studying right now. First-term is coming to an end,” she tried to explain Nkabini’s distraught state.

“We keep on saying we care about education. Is this caring about education? No it is not. The only thing we care about are our pockets,” she said. 

Nkabini, who is supposed to progress to her third year said she felt she and fellow Cida students were being excluded from accessing higher education. 

“We want to go back to class, study and do the right things. But they are not allowing us. They are denying us education.”

The situation at Cida was “demotivating and stressful”, Nkabini said. “We can’t find jobs because [employers] want people with experience. Even if you do get a job, it’s most likely just a retail job that doesn’t pay much. Such jobs are not something that we want. We want education and better jobs.” 

Cida burst on to the scene in 1999 as a groundbreaking institution to uplift thousands of poor black matriculants. An institution whose sustainability depended on donors, its fortunes dwindled after founder Taddy Blecher, an accomplished social entrepreneur, resigned in 2007.  

Following years of mismanagement and failure to attract donors, Cida found itself in debt of over R30-million. Its board of directors applied for business rescue in December 2012.  

Student Michelle Skhosana said she hoped Cida would “make me a better person”. “But now where do I go?”

Addressing students and staff, Mncube urged them not to despair. “We will win. Do not give up.”

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