Students protest at UKZN over historical debt issue
DURBAN - The University of KwaZulu-Natal student leadership has called on all students who are unable to register due to historical debt, to return to the university immediately for a mass protest.
The call was made in a post that circulated on social media platforms yesterday.
The Student Representative Council (SRC) said they believed that the university was not taking them seriously when they raised concerns about the matter.
Yesterday morning, a group of students gathered at UKZN’s Westville Campus where they allegedly blockaded the main entrance and exit of the institution.
The crowd that had gathered at the gates was dispersed by the university’s private security officers together with law enforcement agencies.
The SRC said yesterday that they would continue with their protest action.
“We have exhausted all our efforts in making the university management collaborate in helping our students. However, it’s clear that the university wants to financially exclude them.
“We saw the post on social media, and now it's clear that the students are also mobilising themselves and demanding to come back, and we have no choice but to support them,” said SRC president, Siyabonga Nkambako.
The university had instructed students to pay 15% of their historic debt before they would be cleared for this year’s registration.
Last year, buildings, vehicles and other university facilities were set alight allegedly by the disgruntled students after the university locked horns with students over the historical debt payment.
Nkambako said that this year’s demonstrations would not be violent, and they would make sure that students behaved.
“We are totally against violence and burning university belongings. If there are people who engage in such, we urge law enforcement to take its cause. What happened last year really deteriorated the image of the institution, and we do not want that,” he said.
Nkambako said their engagement with the university had reached a deadlock.
He said that as part of the solution, the SRC has raised more than R2.2 million to help with the payment of historical debt.
UKZN’s acting Executive Director of Corporate Relations, Normah Zondo, confirmed that a group of protesters blocked the university’s entrance on Varsity drive from the morning until midday.
Zondo said the University Risk Management Services and SAPS desisted the protest action, and 10 protesters were apprehended.
“Student leaders engaged with executive management on 17 requests last week. Management fully agreed to 14 of these requests and granted additional concessions to another 2 requests,”
Zondo said management reiterated that it has in good faith considered and conceded to most of students’ issues but cannot afford any further financial concessions that will jeopardise the sustainability of the institution.
She said the university has already implemented processes that effectively ensure that no student is required to pay 100% of their debt in full prior to registration.
“The University is not in a position to waive the requirement for students to pay all amounts committed to in their 2020 debt acknowledgements and repayment plans.
“The institution can not afford a 100% reversal of residence fees charged during periods when residences were not occupied during 2020,” she said.
Further, she said, the demands for a full return of all students to campus immediately equates to a high risk of Covid-19 fatalities.
Zondo added that UKZN has close to 50,000 students with an excess of 22,000 students placed in over 200 buildings located in the municipalities of eThekwini and uMsunduzi.
“Both these municipalities are in districts that have been declared coronavirus hotspots due to their high numbers of active cases,” she added.