#FeesMustFall protests cost universities R800m

The #FeesMustFall protests have left institutions of higher learning with a hefty R800 million bill in damage to infrastructure and the hiring of extra security. Higher Education Minister Naledi Pandor revealed this on Wednesday, August 8, in a written reply to a question posed by a Democratic Alliance (DA) member of parliament.

The Department of Higher Education and Training (DHET) arrived at the figure after requesting submissions from all institutions to cover damage caused by the protests from 2015-2017. DHET then compiled a detailed report of the figures it obtained from each university. The report further broke down the figures according to year and the details of the damage provided.

Wits University told Wits Vuvuzela that it reported an estimated R25 million worth of damage for 2015 – 2017, whereas, according to the DHET report, Wits reported R28 million worth of damage in 2015 but none for 2016 and 2017.

Wits Vuvuzela sought clarification from the university for these discrepancies, however, seemingly no-one can provide the answers.

Buhle Zuma, the university spokesperson, didn’t answer questions relating to: how the sum was calculated; the details of the damage and costs that were considered in the final figure; and how the university separated the cost of #FeesMustFall related damage from damage that was not related to protests.

She also couldn’t explain the absence of a 2016 figure when there is documented evidence of damage to Solomon Mahlangu House and a fire on the second floor of the Wartenweiler Library.

DHET spokesperson, Lunga Nqgengelele said that there were no standard criteria used to determine the cost and each university used its own criteria to determine the amount of damage created by #FeesMustFall protests.

“We assumed the universities would be the best positioned to determine which criteria to use when calculating the amount,” Nqgengelele told Wits Vuvuzela.
Some universities, such as North West University, included the cost of additional private security while others only included infrastructure damage.

NWU recorded the highest costs, which are estimated to have been R198 million. This was largely a result of two buildings being set alight on the Mafikeng campus in February 2016, resulting in the university being temporarily shut down. This damage amounted to R151 million in the 2015-2016 financial year.

NWU spokesperson Louis Jacobs said that the university compiled its final figure using incident reports they had sent to their insurers. “These are all student unrest related, distinguished from routine damage,” Jacobs told Wits Vuvuzela.

Nqgengelele added that the cost had severely set back the government’s programme to provide education. “Money is not freely available; we will have to take it from somewhere else. I won’t be surprised if students wake up tomorrow and protest not having a library meanwhile they burnt the library down,” he said.

FEATURED IMAGE: Graffiti from the #FeesMustFall protests, which reads ‘#Asinamali” can still be found around Wits campuses.
Photo: Naledi Mashishi

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SLICE OF LIFE: Whose body is it anyway?

I recently discovered a Facebook group called “I regret having children”. It’s a group where parents anonymously post about how they regret their (often unplanned) pregnancies and how much children have ruined their life. I had left the group absolutely certain that, at least for the next 10 years, I do not want to have children and began considering long term birth control like the Intrauterine Device (IUD). Yet, when I explained this, I was met with, “but how can you know? What if you meet someone in the next few years and they want kids?”

At the time I dismissed it, along with all the laughs I received from older people when I explained my stance. They gave me knowing winks, as if saying, “sure honey, wait a few years and then get back to me”, before asking what my hypothetical future husband would think. I then slowly began to realise how universal the attitude is.

The first realisation came when a family member described to me how she had gone to a government clinic for an IUD. She arrived only to be asked by a nurse what her future husband would think and got pressured into getting a Depo Provera injection because, according to the nurse, giving her an IUD would be a waste of government money as she would just come back to take it out in two to three years after she’d met a suitable husband.

The second came when in America, reproductive rights, which had seemed like a settled debate after Roe v Wade (1973), were thrust back into public discourse due to policy and legislative changes which threatens to roll back funding for clinics like Planned Parenthood. This has created a ripple effect felt by women in developing countries, where Donald Trump’s Global Gag Rule has led to non-profit organisations which provide women with reproductive services being defunded. As a result, millions of women have nowhere else to turn for reliable contraceptives and safe abortion services.

And to drive the matter home, just two weeks ago, medical doctor and reproductive rights activist, Dr Tlaleng Mofokeng, was left visibly frustrated as an interviewer on Afrovoices derailed a discussion about abortion access into a debate about whether or not it was the duty of black African women to birth African populations comparable to India and China.

Earlier this year, I attended a talk held at Wits Junction about access to abortion titled Whose body is it anyway? In many ways, this question has become only more relevant in 2018. To whom do women’s bodies belong? To lawmakers in faraway countries who can cut off access to reproductive services with the stroke of a pen? To future armies and workforces who need someone to provide them with young, healthy bodies? To governments who can pressure women into taking potentially harmful hormonal birth control for the sake of being economical? Or to hypothetical husbands whose feelings must be accounted for in our present day medical decisions?

What these questions point to is the invasive policing of our bodies. The societal pressure we face to have children, combined with the increasing restrictions women the world over face on reproductive healthcare, has created a suffocating scenario in which we are beginning to lose control over our own bodies. As some women resort to desperate methods like backstreet abortions to cling to that control, others deal with the devastating consequences of unwanted and unplanned pregnancies which, ironically, are often derided by the same people who oppose reproductive justice in the first place.

I believe it is impossible to envision women’s liberation without reproductive justice, because of the many ways that a lack of access to reliable contraceptives and safe abortion services directly harm the wellbeing of women. As we move into Women’s Month the central question we should be asking ourselves when it comes to reproductive issues, such access to abortions and contraceptives, should be “whose body is it anyway?”

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