Student governance at the University of Zululand (UniZulu) continues to be in tatters, with no functional student representative council (SRC) in place.
For a third successive year, the university has appointed an SRC administrator in the place of an elected SRC body. This is despite a budget of R5-million between 2009 and 2018 for SRC elections, a figure revealed by the department of higher education, science and technology in a parliamentary question last year.
This means that no elected students have been running the body, meant to deal with the issues of its students, since 2016, despite the money being spent to have elections. However, in 2017 and 2018 there was an elected SRC body, but administrators had to be appointed because of irregularities that had arisen.
The university released a statement last week announcing that council, its highest decision-making body, had decided to appoint Bongumusa Prince Makhoba as the new SRC administrator in the best interests of the university, after matters of the SRC election remained “unresolved”.
The university thanked Nontobeko Zulu, who was appointed SRC administrator last year after the body was dissolved, following allegations of serious misconduct against 12 of its members. UniZulu’s SRC is made up of 15 members.
The university’s spokesperson, Gcina Nhleko, said the 12 were expelled after being found guilty of looting and attempted theft at a spa resort during a strategic planning workshop.
Zulu, an EFF Student Command leader, was elected as the SRC president before that SRC was dissolved.
Elections at the institution were supposed to have taken place on September 26. But students embarked on a protest days before over safety issues relating in particular to students staying off campus. This led to the university suspending classes. Students only returned in October.
Student leaders who spoke to the Mail & Guardian this week — on condition of anonymity for fear of being victimised — said that when they got back on campus it was time to prepare for exams, and no other activities were allowed to take place. But the student leaders questioned the appointment of Makhoba and how the university had settled on him.
One said: “There were no SRC elections, so automatically the person who was serving as an administrator before should have gone back to that position. Her [Zulu’s] role was supposed to have ceased to exist after a new SRC had been elected.”
According to UniZulu’s SRC constitution, the council has powers to appoint an SRC administrator if it is of the opinion that a sitting SRC is inoperative or unable to function properly. But the constitution is silent on council’s powers to appoint another administrator if a new SRC has not been elected.
Nhleko told the M&G that the appointment of an administrator was the function of the council and that the position was not a “right” but said Zulu had been notified that her contract was over.
Another student leader told the M&G that there were already a number of grievances that students had raised about the process of nominating candidates who were going to stand for the elections.
The student leaders said when it became clear that SRC elections were not going to take place, student formations approached the dean of students to suggest to council that an interim SRC be established. The student leader said the idea did not materialise, and they were stunned when they got the statement that an SRC administrator was appointed.
“It does not look right for the university not to have a student representative that is elected directly by students for a second year in a row [this is now the third year]. The appointment of an SRC administrator disregards student representation. It also disregards the democracy in the institution. It is not ideal for one person to carry the mandate of thousands of students,” said the student leader.
But Nhleko said the SRC elections were aborted after the integrity of the process was questioned by students. She said the university appointed an independent consultant who was tasked with auditing and reviewing the process following the allegations.
“Council decided that it was in the best interest of the university to postpone the process until further notice. Council received reports that there were flaws in the election process that would jeopardise the validity of the elections,” said Nhleko.
She added that because the university was also closed as a result of the protests, council had “resolved that the SRC election had become inoperative”.
Nhleko said the matter of SRC elections was in the hands of council and nothing could be communicated to students about the elections before council met, which it did last Monday. She also said that students were busy with exams when the university reopened after the protest and that “reviving the SRC process” would not have been possible.
Student leaders who spoke to the M&G said many students were disgruntled that they did not get to elect an SRC that would represent their interests and felt that Makhoba was being imposed on them.
A student leader said: “This person just came from nowhere … he has just been thrown in there. Literally nobody knew him up until that day the university released the statement.”
Part of the function of SRCs is to take up issues affecting students with university structures, such as council, Senate and the executive. SRC officials sit in on important meetings of council —as members of council — where important decisions are taken such as the building of residences and other pertinent issues.
Nhleko said the appointment of the administrator, by its nature, is not broadly consultative. She said Makhoba was an alumnus of the university who has in the past provided support to students as a mentor and a tutor.
Student governance at the university has long been in shambles. In 2017, it also appointed an SRC administrator after a group of students took the university to court to interdict that SRC from assuming office, citing irregularities in the elections.
A 2011 report by independent assessors, looking into the state of the university, said that the university operated without a SRC from 2009 to 2010, after the aborted elections in 2009. At the time, the report cited political intolerance between student formations.