Disgruntled parents take legal action against continued NMMU shutdown

BY JESICA SLABBERT - OCTOBER 6, 2016

At a meeting held on Wednesday night for the parents of Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University (NMMU) students, who are concerned about the continued shutdown at the university as part of the countrywide #FeesMustFall protests, an association was formed in order to take the matter to court.

This comes, when the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University (NMMU) on Wednesday said that it is preparing for students to return to classes to conclude the 2016 academic year - although no date for the resumption has been decided.

The new association was named, the Concerned Association of Parents and others for Tertiary Education at Universities (CAPTU) - perhaps, coincidentally, an acronym, which is Latin for ‘to seize and take’.

The purpose of the meeting, according to lawyer and Senior Director at Wheeldon, Rushmere and Cole Inc. in Grahamstown, Brin Brody, who chaired it, was to discuss a class action by concerned parents and children, who stand to lose a whole year of monies paid as fees and study time if the university does not open its doors.

Brody said he was approached by concerned parents, who want their children to return to NMMU and resume academic activities.

“Our view is that the university has an obligation to open, to turn to the South African Police Services, Security Companies, to open the campus and look after the students and to continue with business based on contract, based on the Consumer Protection Act. We believe it can open in the same ways that other Universities have opened, such as Rhodes University in Grahamstown, which has opened for business,” he described.

The goal is to approach the High Court for an interdict against the NMMU that will compel them to open their doors again.

“My clients have tried engaging with the university, I am just the attorney that has been brought in at this stage to proceed with the court application. We do intend to send correspondence to the university before we proceed, and at this stage, the plan is to do that by tomorrow [Thursday]. If the university does not reopen, we will proceed to court next week,” Brody said.

“My clients are parents, students and other interested groups, who wish to continue with education on the basis of contracts where they have paid for university. If the university closes there will be enormous damages, not only for the individuals but for the university itself.

“An example of this was when a student has been offered a job, who cannot complete their education and will now lose this job and have a damages claim, not only for the fees for this year, but also for future income.”

A committee of six people was formed at the meeting, who will be representing the CAPTU group and their plea that the NMMU reopens for the students and staff.

Students told to vacate diggs

The latest effort comes as it emerged that students living in 'The Diggs' residence and being funded by bursaries and NSFAS would be evicted if they could not pay their living expenses by Thursday. Due to the #FeesMustFall shutdown, the NMMU has been unable to make payouts to the students in the residences.

The NMMU Student Representative Council (SRC) has stated that they are trying to resolve the situation and has made contact with the Director of Student Housing, Dr Mpuru, who has given surety that he will be visiting "The Diggs" residence to ensure that no student is evicted.

They are also trying to engage with the Dean of Students as well as the Executive Director of Finance to reopen critical departments such as finance, which is responsible for disbursing students funds.

Meanwhile, the #OpenNMMU group, which, as the name suggests, wants the NMMU to reopen, has entered into their second day of its silent protest, and will continue until Friday. It met with the #NMMUFeesMustFall on Wednesday.

#FeesMustFallReloaded

#FeesMustFall protests broke out on the 19th of September across the country after the Minister of Higher Education, Blade Nzimande, recommended an 8% fee increment for affording students.

The shutdown at the NMMU is now in its third week and the university, last week, stated that if students do not return to class next week, it will be forced to shut down for the 2016 academic year.

That will effectively mean that students will have to repeat the year again in 2017 – a particularly stressful prospect, especially for paying parents as well as international students.

The NMMU released a list of responses to Frequently Asked Questions relating specifically to various issues and challenges at the university. Click here > FAQS

Several efforts to resolve the impasse at the NMMU have failed.

Different groups - different agendas

Preventing the speedy resolution to the impasse at the institution is that divisions have since emerged among the protesting students.

Various student groupings, including the Student Representative Council (SRC), initially formed a coalition to collectively voice their concerns in relation to the announcement, but were divided in their approach.

However, by the 21st of September, it emerged that the SRC was no longer part of the coalition. At the end of the week, the  NMMU had actually received petitions from four different student formations in Port Elizabeth and George, and responded to each by last Sunday evening.

Below are the four memoranda received from four student formations at NMMU being the SRC, the George Campus Student Council, the student FMF coalition in PE and the FMF movement on the George Campus.

The NMMU has held meetings with student formations. The SRC also recently held a public meeting at the city hall where things did not go so well.