A trail of destruction left by protesting students at UKZN Westville campus after clashing with security guards. Picture: Doctor Ngcobo/African News Agency (ANA)
A trail of destruction left by protesting students at UKZN Westville campus after clashing with security guards. Picture: Doctor Ngcobo/African News Agency (ANA)

UKZN: A place to learn, not burn

By Dennis Pather - Tongue In Cheek Time of article published Mar 1, 2020

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This week, my heart goes out to the thousands of young, bright-eyed and impressionable freshmen and women who entered the University of KwaZulu-Natal with hopes of forging new careers.

These are challenging times for the newcomers, their first year out of secondary school, when tough decisions have to be taken on what courses to follow, how to cope with newfound independence; making friends in strange surroundings; and having to balance their daily budgets for the first time in their lives.

Decisions, decisions!

But instead of being eased gently into this new phase of their life experience, they were plunged into a baptism by fire, literally at times.

Even before the academic programme had begun, they were caught up in a storm of violent protests, disruptions and incidents of arson, sparked by a dispute over historic student debt.

As a concerned mother told journalists: “When I see on the news or hear from my son about what is going on, I am terrified I worry about it every day but we can’t afford to send him somewhere else.”

Apart from the estimated R31 million damage to university property, parents, staff and alumni were also concerned the stand-off had driven the major stakeholders into hardened positions, making it more difficult to resolve differences.

As far as the protesting students were concerned, there was a simple solution: scrap all old student debts and everything would be hunky-dory.

Point taken. But did that give the protesters the right to behave like unruly hooligans, destroying university property and torching cars in the process?

We’re talking here about an institution for learning, not burning.

How does one condone the despicable acts of violence and intimidation on campus, especially the assault on the elderly academic last week?

The university on the other hand said it was having to contend with a massive R1.7 billion debt and could not afford to make more concessions.

They placed the blame squarely on a small minority of individuals who persisted in making demands the university management could not meet.

Point taken here too. But if vice-chancellor Professor Nana Poku believes a small minority of individuals were responsible for the mayhem, why did his management team not act more decisively to bring the culprits to book?

Why haven’t there been any arrests and suspensions?

As it turns out, it seems some common sense has prevailed and UKZN is going to make efforts to raise funds to assist students with payments as well as work with other contributors to raise funds to pay their historical debt. What took you guys so long?

A university is not an island that functions in isolation. It is an integral part of the community in which it exists.

As people of this province, we have a right to ask: Why did you have to wait for millions of rand of damage to public property and institutional reputation to occur before you came to your senses?

* The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.

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