High cost of campus chaos during #FeesMustFall

Across the country, the cost sits at R786m

Students and police clash at NMU (then NMMU) during #FeesMustFall protests in October 2016.
Students and police clash at NMU (then NMMU) during #FeesMustFall protests in October 2016.
Image: Eugene Coetzee

The damage caused by protesting students in the #FeesMustFall movement has cost Eastern Cape universities and TVET colleges more than R36m.

Across the country, the cost sits at R786m, which is equivalent to the annual state subsidy provided to a small university, it emerged in parliament on Tuesday.

The figures are contained in a written reply to questions posed by the DA to higher education & training minister Naledi Pandor.

It spells out the destruction wrought to universities over a three-year period, cataloguing how laboratories, libraries and buildings were set alight and vandalised on campuses.

The direct damage reported by the universities stood at R492.4m in 2015/2016, R237.7m in 2016/2017 and R56.5m in 2017/2018.

The hardest-hit institutions were North West University, which sustained R198m in damage after its Mahikeng campus was set alight; the University of Johannesburg, which saw fire and vandalism cause damage worth R144m and the University of KwaZulu-Natal, which estimated the damage done to its torched law library and vandalised buildings at more than R100m.

In the Eastern Cape, Nelson Mandela University sustained damages worth almost R20m, followed by University of Fort Hare (R8.2m), Rhodes University (R750,000) and Walter Sisulu University (R351,287).

The King Hintsa TVET College in Mthatha and Lovedale TVET College in King Williams Town were hit with a combined cost of R7.2m.

Damage at NMU included a prefabricated building being burnt down and fire damage to a second building. Another building was petrol-bombed, with windows smashed and walls damaged at others.

Pandor’s spokesperson, Lunga Ngqengelele, said the minister was deeply concerned about the financial implications of the damage.

“We need to find money that could have been used for something else.”

DA spokesperson on higher education & training Belinda Bozzoli said, on average, universities received R1bn each a year from the state, while a smaller university would typically get a subsidy of about R800m.

The damages cost would have built at least two new residences for students at a poorer university, or fund thousands of students’ expenses, she said.

“What appals me is not only the monetary value, but also the aggression and destructiveness of the students and unionised staff.

“The aggression – ranging from intimidation of other people, students and staff, through to looting of university property, right down to burning down buildings such as bookshops, lecture halls and residences – is a sign of a very serious breakdown in the social contract, and testimony to the fact that our institutions of learning have become unpleasant and often frightening places to learn and teach.

“Prof Bongani Mayosi’s suicide is but the most extreme example of how soul-destroying life can be on one of our campuses,” Bozzoli said.

Universities SA CEO Ahmed Bawa said he suspected the costs were much more substantial because the figures did not include the costs of additional security or the loss of study time.