UKZN education crisis committee takes concerns to KZN premier
DURBAN – The newly formed University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN) education crisis committee (UKZNECC) has called for an investigation into allegations that the institution’s private security company, Mi7, may be complicit in acts of violence and criminality at campuses.
UKZNECC was established in February by concerned alumni, parents, students and student groups and was most recently joined by members of the regional progressive professional forum (PPF).
“Our interest as civil society formations is in stabilising UKZN as a peaceful, stable centre of teaching, learning and research,” said KwaZulu-Natal Diocese Anglican Bishop Rubin Phillip, UKZNECC spokesperson.
Phillip made the remarks at the Denis Hurley Centre in Durban on Tuesday during a media briefing.
The group said it aimed to tackle the impasse at the public university, which has experienced running battles between police, students and private security, as mostly undergraduates from poor households object to having to settle a percentage of their historical debt before being able to resume studying, among other issues.
The protests, often turning violent, have been on going for close on a decade and have severely affected the university’s image and its ability to raise funds. Buildings and vehicles are regularly burned, windows smashed and other property randomly torched.
In February, an elderly emeritus professor was assaulted on campus.
Students who do not participate in the protests report being threatened and intimidated if they do not join the marches.
The institution is currently carrying R1.7 billion in student debt, it has announced publicly. It has also said that damages as a result of violent flare-ups this year alone amount to R31 million.
The UKZNECC stressed at the start of the meeting that any violent, criminal acts committed on UKZN campuses by students or others was strongly condemned and should be investigated. Perpetrators should be arrested, tried and convicted, they said.
However, it was also agreed that allegations of the involvement of Mi7 needed to be scrutinised alongside investigations into the criminal behaviour of some students during the flare-ups.
The members also urged vice chancellor, professor Nana Poku, to be "restrained in the use of militarised private security and rein in the costs associated".
PPF eThekwini chairperson, Advocate Khaya Thango, told the meeting that an investigation into Mi7 would assist the university and the students, and if the allegations were unfounded, would also clear the company’s name.
In fact, he added, anybody involved in the affairs of the university and against whom serious allegations had been made should be investigated “to bring the matter to finality”.
Bishop Phillip said he was “not confident” that UKZN would initiate such an investigation, with Thango and others present agreeing.
It was resolved to take UKZECC’s calls for investigations to KwaZulu-Natal premier, Sihle Zikalala. Additionally, a suggestion would be made that the provincial police commissioner designate a task team to investigate the violence and the potential involvement of private security.
Once the SAPS investigation was complete, said Thango, the report should be made public.
Students and some alumni have long alleged that the security company is complicit in the destruction of university property to ensure its contracts are extended, but no evidence of this has been provided.
UKZN EFFSC spokesperson, Sthembiso Thethwayo, told the meeting that even if the allegations of Mi7 being involved in the violence were “conspiracy theories”, they were prevalent and disturbing enough to warrant investigation.
It was also suggested that the university’s audit committee be approached to raise issues of governance. The audit committee is a sub-committee of council and includes external members.
Additionally, the group called on the university to disclose its true financial position “so that a fundraising effort might be better informed”.African News Agency