Student protests cost universities close to R800 million in damages

Damages linked to Fees Must Fall protests between 2015 and 2017 have cost South African universities almost R800 million, according to the Department of Higher Education and Training.

Answering questions put before it by the DA, the department revealed that the costs to date are at R787 million – up significantly from the last reported figure which was around R600 million.

The damages reported by the universities stood at R492 million in 2015‚ R238 million in 2016 and R57 million in 2017, the department noted.

Of the 13 universities impacted by the protests, North-West University, which saw its Mafikeng campus set ablaze, carried the highest cost at R198 million.

This was followed by the University of Johannesburg, whose auditorium was also burnt down, carrying a cost of R144 million.

The University of KwaZulu Natal suffered damages of R100 million, and the University of the Western Cape also saw fire damages amount to R68 million.

According to the department, the huge losses from the protests are especially tragic, as the funds that must now be used to fix everything could have been used to better the lives of students in the first place.

Students took to the streets and marched on the Union buildings over the past three years, fighting against the rising cost of tertiary education.

While many of the student groups stages peaceful protests, other student interests took a more violent approach and used arson as their medium to get their frustrations across.

As a result of the protests, government zero-rated fee hikes for certain segments of students, and in 2017 former president Jacob Zuma promised free education before he was ousted.

In the 2018 budget, National Treasury revealed that an additional R57 billion will be budgeted over the next three years to fulfil this promise, though only for students who come from poor or working-class families.

This will be split up as such: R12.4 billion in 2018, R20.3 billion in 2019 and R24.3 billion in 2020.

Read: The new proposed plan to help fund free education in South Africa

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Student protests cost universities close to R800 million in damages