Vice-chancellor summoned to answer donors on protest action as UKZN’s braces for R30 million damages bill

Emergency services were called to UKZN’s Westville campus after students set fire to part of the Chemistry faculty. Picture: Supplied / dRK EMS

Emergency services were called to UKZN’s Westville campus after students set fire to part of the Chemistry faculty. Picture: Supplied / dRK EMS

Published Mar 26, 2024


The costs incurred from ongoing violence and acts of arson at the KwaZulu-Natal are expected to cost in the region of R30 million.

This is according to UKZN Vice-Chancellor and Principal, Professor Nana Poku, who in a letter to staff and students, said he has been summoned by the group of the university's donors to account for the burning of a refurbished sports gymnasium.

"What will I say to them? How will I convince them that UKZN is still worth supporting? As ever, 'problems' are being thrown out to justify these acts of lunacy," Poku said.

“As we set ourselves the depressing task of estimating the costs of this week’s mindless and cowardly acts of violence and destruction to property, we can brace ourselves for a bill no less than R30 million. For a University struggling to feed its students and pay its staff, this needless expenditure is not only wasteful, but also criminal," Poku added.

In the letter, which IOL has seen, Poku said in spite of the university's potential, it finds itself facing an uncertain future as an institution.

In the letter, Poku addressed the issues of student transport, student accommodation and academic exclusions; three issues seemingly at the root of the violent outbursts.

Student transport

Poku explained that currently, UKZN's budget for student transport for 2024 will be exceeded by R6.2m.

He explained that UKZN pays for around 24,225 students to be ferried to and from campuses which shows that the student transport provision is more than adequate to cater for students staying at university-owned and leased residences off campus.

"However, there continues to be an unexplained demand on the University to provide additional student transport capacity ­– a benefit ­­which is not funded as students do not separately pay for this service. The student transport budget for 2024 is R64.3 million, and the expected actual expenditure based on the current timetable is R70.5. This means that the University budget will be exceeded by at least R6.2m," he said.

With transport costs per student averaging R6,005 annually, it is time for UKZN to carefully examine the efficiency and value for money of the services we provide to students. The annual cost per student is as high as R25,677 at some residences, while it at stands as low as R1,643 in others.

Poku said the history of corruption in the provision of transport has resulted in a "perverse reality" where students dictact what they want and the University simply foots the bill.

"The outcome is that we have some residences where UKZN is leasing 30 beds but is forced to acquire 65-seater buses to conduct ridiculous 10 trips a day at an average daily cost of R38,52 per student. This is the sort of garbage we have been forced to agree to as a result of students damaging and burning University property. At this rate, it might be cheaper to give students this money for transport at their convenience," Poku said.

Student accommodation

Poku said for this year, about 85% of students in University-owned and leased residences are beneficiaries of the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS).

He said NSFAS recently directed all its beneficiaries to source accommodation directly from residence owners through its student accommodation portal.

"Essentially, this means that UKZN will now be unable to enter into further new lease agreements – we can only provide student accommodation to NSFAS beneficiaries through university-owed residences," he said.

He said notwithstanding this, the university sourced an additional 6,286 leased beds earlier this year.

"We must proceed with extreme caution on this matter going forward as we have simply run out of buildings that can be procured without flouting our processes and procedures," Poku said.

He added that all the remaining buildings that participated in the recent open-tender process achieved very low inspection scores and are therefore just not suitable to be used as student accommodation.

"We have also seen a number of landlords withdrawing from their lease agreements with UKZN and opting to provide student accommodation through the NSFAS process. This further limits our ability to secure additional suitable student accommodation for leasing," he explained.

Academic exclusions

Poku explained that during the January 2024 College Exclusion Appeals Committee (CEACOM) sitting, 161 CEACOM referrals were considered, 97 students were finally academically excluded with no further appeal permitted. Poku explained that academic exclusions occur when students have personal issues that affect their academic performance.

"This often means that they must appeal for re-admission, and are provided the opportunity to do this to their CEACOM, in the first instance. CEACOM has various options available for student re-admission. However, in certain instances where CEACOM believes that as the last resort, the applicant needs “time out” to deal with issues impeding their academic progression, the applicant is referred to Academic Exclusion Appeals Committee (AEACOM) for consideration. The SRC has representation on both CEACOM and AEACOM committees," Poku said.

He said the acts of violence and arson should be condemned in the strongest terms, and those involved identified and excluded from the university along with criminal charges being levelled against them.

“What they have done is not just an act of criminality, it is also an assault on the rights of current and future students who deserve UKZN to remain an outstanding institution of higher learning.

“By destroying and burning University property, making it inhospitable for the retention or attraction of quality scholars, and fostering a culture of exploitation, the culprits behind these criminal acts also extinguish the future of transformation through education in the province and crush our efforts of lifting many from poverty,” Poku said.