UNCERTAINTY surrounding the refurbishments of Savernake, the house provided for Wits vice chancellor, was the subject of a news briefing held on Monday by incoming Vice Chancellor Prof Adam Habib.
“The house belongs to the trust of the Price family and was made available for the use of Wit’s vice chancellor some 40 years ago. The terms of the agreement are that it has to be returned to the Price family should the vice chancellor not live in it,” said a statement from the office of the Vice Chancellor.
Habib, who is not yet residing at Savernake, stressed at the media briefing that the house is not only a home for the VC but a venue that is used to host a number of university functions.
However, Savernake, which is still registered under the Price family trust has “not been adequately maintained and has fallen into serious disrepair over the years.”
The cost of refurbishments to the house
was settled at R12 million, but was later cut down to R9 million after a meeting convened by Habib with the representatives of the unions, the SRC and the senate representatives to Wits Council.
The Star recently published an article that criticised the decision to renovate Savernake by stating “[The] University is prepared to spend at least R9 million on renovating the vice-chancellor’s official residence, [when] desperate students sleep on chairs.”
Habib said that the university is aware that there are students without homes and who have financial problems: “We will do our best within our means to help them but we must abide by public laws of heritage too.”
The reason the cost of refurbishment is so high is because the house is a heritage site and there are certain laws surrounding the renovation procedures of it.
“There are explicit rules of how to renovate it and it can only be repaired by a select group of artisans and service providers,” Habib said.
Tawana Kupe, deputy vice chancellor for finance and operations said that it has been agreed with the Price family trust that the property, worth R30 million, will be transferred to Wits University should the renovations proceed.
“We are not paying the Price family a single rand for the house. We will not buy the house,” Kupe said.