Johannesburg - At least 10 000 students could have been educated with the R300 million in damage done to university campuses across the country by protesters.
If taken further, this figure can be broken down to a basic figure for the number of future accountants, doctors, lawyers, social workers and teachers currently training that could have paid a minimal amount for their university education this year.
On Tuesday, the Department of Higher Education and Training said damage caused to universities during the 2015/16 #FeesMustFall protests amounted to R300 302 848.58, with North West University’s Mahikeng campus having suffered the most damage at R151m due to the recent unrest that saw buildings torched, students shot at with rubber bullets and the university closing for a month.
The administration block was destroyed as were the computers and documents in the building. Higher Education Minister Blade Nzimande said he was astounded, adding that money that will have to be used to repair damaged infrastructure could have been used for other things like research.
The Star calculated that thousands of students could have been educated with that money.
The #FeesMustFall protests were sparked by lack of funding for poor students and those labelled as the “missing middle”, whose parents are too poor to qualify for bank loans, but too rich for their children to qualify for the National Students Financial Scheme.
With the R151m in damages to North West University (NWU), 4 500 BA students could have been educated this year as a Bachelor of Arts degree at the university costs R33 100 a year, R540 less than at Wits University.
When this figure is applied to the cost of a social work student’s yearly fee at NWU, 4 400 students could have been educated this year.
BCom accounting students pay an average of R40 400 at NWU which means just over 3 730 students could have been educated with the R151m estimated in damages.
At the University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN), which sustained R82m in damages, 1 850 medical students could have been educated this year.
A total of 2 420 education students could have been educated with this amount this year, whereas 2 240 law students could have benefited.
Overall, with medicine costing an average of R51 000 across the country, the total cost of damages could have educated 5 889 medical students.
A total of 9 463 teachers or 8 083 social work students could have been educated with the R300m in damages to universities this year.
Nzimande said it was unacceptable that student protests resulted in violence and the destruction of universities' property that belonged to all South Africans and future generations.
“We have agreed that law enforcement agencies must work with us in protecting the property, students and the staff as a whole. We have been worried about a particular fringe within students who have captured and diverted genuine students’ demands for their own ends, by resorting to violence and damaging property,” he said.
In February, violence broke out at NWU shortly after the new student representative council (SRC) was appointed.
This was after the old SRC had been dissolved a few weeks earlier by the university management over allegations that it had not been performing its duties as required by its constitution. After the inauguration of the new SRC, violence erupted resulting in the torching of three buildings and a security company vehicle.
The UKZN was the second with the extent of damages listed at R82m, followed by the University of the Western Cape at R46m.
At UWC, disgruntled students allegedly torched a residence administration building.
Infrastructural damage at Tshwane University of Technology’s Shoshanguve Campus due to protests stood at R5m. It was not the first time that the university had experienced violent protests.
In 2014, protesting students allegedly burnt 18 cars and buildings were set alight.
With regard to other universities and the losses incurred, the University of Zululand stood at R4.5m and the University of Cape Town at R3.2m after protesting students allegedly torched cars, invaded residences, burnt artwork and petrol-bombed the vice-chancellor’s office.
University of the Free State stood at R2.8m, University of Limpopo at R1.7m, Wits at R1.4m, Cape Peninsula University of Technology at R689 000, Walter Sisulu University at R351 000 and the University of Johannesburg at R345 000.
Of all the universities, losses incurred in infrastructure damages at Rhodes University were the lowest at R250 000.
The department was unable to quantify just how much loss the University of South Africa's Central University of Technology had suffered.
Spokesman for the department Khaye Nkwanyana said the protests had disorganised big universities, and the department was unsure of what repairs to the affected universities would entail.
He added that the department and universities were working with insurance companies to determine coverage of the destruction.
“The issue is now about diverting resources to quickly renovate those buildings and replace the equipment that was lost,” he said.