Cida stu­dents dereg­is­tered, evicted from campus

BON­GANI NKOSI

Hun­dreds of stu­dents have been dereg­is­tered and evicted from Cida City Cam­pus in Johan­nes­burg after the insti­tu­tion filed for busi­ness rescue.

A free education university is not so free anymore. (Supplied)

Dereg­is­tered from the insti­tu­tion that promised them free ter­tiary edu­ca­tion because they were from poor back­grounds but aca­d­e­m­i­cally well-​performing, a last batch of hun­dreds of stu­dents Cida City Cam­pus decided to cull as part of its “busi­ness res­cue plan” are now idling home in parts of the country.

The stu­dents were evicted from the institution’s only cam­pus in Lyn­d­hurst, Johan­nes­burg last Fri­day. “They came room to room with a list of peo­ple who’ve been dereg­is­tered. They took keys and locked the rooms. We no longer had any choice but to leave. Luck­ily I found trans­port home,” Isaac Hlung­wana, a third-​year stu­dent, told the Mail & Guardian this week speak­ing from Limpopo.

The finan­cially dis­tressed Cida is under­go­ing busi­ness res­cue to avoid liq­ui­da­tion. Its direc­tors filed for vol­un­tary busi­ness res­cue last Decem­ber after it became appar­ent that its dried out cof­fers had “led to work­ing cap­i­tal short­ages”, as Nonkqubela Mazwai, chair­per­son of board of direc­tors and a Cida trustee, stated in her affidavit.

Cida’s found­ing by social entre­pre­neur Taddy Blecher in 1999 was largely received as a ground-​breaking edu­ca­tion inno­va­tion. Blacher left under a clout in 2007.

What now puts Cida at a threat of liq­ui­da­tion is that, in addi­tion to dwin­dled donor fund­ing, it owes over 50 cred­i­tors, includ­ing the City of Johan­nes­burg for unpaid water and elec­tric­ity, and a num­ber of ser­vice and food providers for unpaid debt, nearly R20million.

Rob Dev­ereux, direc­tor of com­pany Sturns who was appointed by court as Cida’s busi­ness res­cue prac­ti­tioner, decided upon tak­ing over the reins that the num­ber of stu­dents at Cida should be “reduce[d] to around 400 to 350 cir­cum­stances pre­vail­ing” from the orig­i­nal 743. Now 400 stu­dents remain in cam­pus. Debate is rag­ing more intensely over 236 of those kicked out, as all were still in sec­ond and third year.

In one let­ter seen by the M&G Dev­ereux told said plans to cut num­bers were endorsed by the Depart­ment of Higher Edu­ca­tion and Training.

Told they were no longer cov­ered by schol­ar­ships because they had not passed 75% of the courses they reg­is­tered for the pre­vi­ous year, stu­dents were finally informed by let­ters in April that they had been deregistered.

Stu­dents were given three days to fork out up to R30 000 for the first semes­ter. The let­ter from man­age­ment said: “You are, how­ever, able to con­tinue with your stud­ies if your find an alter­na­tive source of fund­ing. Should that be the case, the man­age­ment expects you to have paid your fees in full by Fri­day, April 19. Should you fail to do so, you will be expected to leave the insti­tu­tion by the end of the week­end, i.e. Sun­day, April 21″.

But no one of them could pay the money. “The rea­son we’re here in the first place is that we’re from dis­ad­van­taged fam­i­lies, how can we raise such money even given more days?” an angry Tsep­ang Nen­z­i­nane, who was doing his third year and was elected sec­re­tary gen­eral of the cur­rent stu­dents rep­re­sen­ta­tive coun­cil, asked.

Stu­dents accuse Dev­ereux of car­ing for noth­ing less than mak­ing Cida prof­itable. Learn­ing con­di­tions in cam­pus have not been favourable for some years now, they say. While they have not been taught by suit­ably qual­i­fied lec­tur­ers, text­books are in dis­mal short­age and lec­tur­ers and other staff go months with­out salaries. Stu­dents’ cam­pus strike last year was dri­ven by demand for a qual­i­fied and expe­ri­enced aca­d­e­mic to be appointed as Cida’s exec­u­tive dean (“Var­sity axes dean after protest”, M&G, May 2012).

Rob doesn’t care about the human fac­tor, our future and our fam­i­lies,” said Nenzinane.

Dev­ereux admit­ted to the M&G not all the stu­dents who have been kicked out have per­formed too badly. Some did achieve over 70% “but not 75%”, he said. He agreed con­di­tions were unfavourable to learning.

But at the end of the day my role in terms of the law is to save the insti­tu­tion and to pro­tect the cred­i­tors. If no money comes in, regard­less of what hap­pened in the past, then I must liq­ui­date this thing. If we do not apply the rules there’s no way Cida can continue.”

The res­cue plan details the irreg­u­lar­i­ties that led to Cida’s “demise”. Top of the list is the long­stand­ing prob­lem of “weak” man­age­ment and gov­er­nance. “After the founders had left the organ­i­sa­tion it has been plagued with lead­er­ship issues … it appears that the board are unable to resolve the issues,” said the plan.

Fundrais­ing gen­er­ally died down due to lack of momen­tum”. Also, “activ­i­ties of two foun­da­tions in Lon­don and New York have ceased thus all over­seas con­tact have become stagnant”.

Mazwai, who is chief exec­u­tive of a min­ing com­pany and also sits on boards of var­i­ous com­pa­nies, said because Cida was now under busi­ness res­cue she would not respond to the M&G’s questions.

But the root of all prob­lems at Cida, accord­ing to Dev­ereux, is its foun­da­tion. The insti­tu­tion was built on a “flawed busi­ness model” because Blecher was its face. “It’s the thing of an indi­vid­ual being larger than the organ­i­sa­tion. Cida City Cam­pus was Blecher. In terms of gov­er­nance pro­ce­dures, that is wrong.”

But “that’s non­sense,” Blecher told the M&G this week. “Peo­ple did not sup­port the insti­tu­tion because of one indi­vid­ual. It’s sad that it’s now in this posi­tion. It means it has not been cared for.”

It was also “imag­i­nary” that the insti­tu­tion was built on a flawed busi­ness model, Blecher said. “It’s a proven work­ing con­cept. If Cida could last for 14 years, why can’t it last for 50 more years?”

But Sibongiseni Dlamini, the department’s spokesper­son, denied this, say­ing: “Dev­ereux did inform [us] about his busi­ness res­cue plan, [but] the depart­ment did not endorse any of the mea­sures and in par­tic­u­lar the dereg­is­tra­tion of students”.


A dream of free uni­ver­sity edu­ca­tion turned to tragedy

Cida City Cam­pus burst into the scene in 1999 as a free edu­ca­tion uni­ver­sity that would help curb inter-​generational poverty in many dis­ad­van­taged families.

An inter­net search of the insti­tu­tion still gives hun­dreds of hits link­ing it to its charis­matic founder Taddy Blacher, though he sev­ered ties with it in 2007 fol­low­ing con­tro­versy about a com­pul­sory require­ment for stu­dents to per­form tran­scen­den­tal meditation.

Besides its high-​powered mar­ket­ing drive then, endorse­ments from impor­tant fig­ures aided Cida raise the much-​needed funds. Accord­ing to Cida’s web­site for­mer pres­i­dent Thabo Mbeki told Par­lia­ment in 2001: “The edu­ca­tion offered at CIDA City Cam­pus is designed to make stu­dents rel­e­vant, truly empow­ered, inte­grated cit­i­zens and lead­ers that are skilled and equipped to build the South African econ­omy and society.”

Mbeki’s wife Zanele became the Cida’s chan­cel­lor in 2006. Her inau­gu­ra­tion was highly pub­li­cised. It is not clear when she resigned, but accord­ing to the busi­ness res­cue plan chair­per­son of Cida board Nonkqubela Mazwai, a busi­ness exec­u­tive in the min­ing sec­tor, is cur­rently fill­ing the posi­tion. “It is rec­om­mended that she be replaced with a new can­di­date,” said the plan.

Phil­an­thropic moguls such as Oprah Win­frey and Charles Bran­son became openly asso­ci­ated with Cida as donors, and so did a num­ber of multi-​national companies.

Blecher this week told the Mail & Guardian he is proud of achieve­ments Cida has made. “It’s a tragedy” that it is now fac­ing prob­lems that could see it liq­ui­dated, he said. “Cida has helped thou­sands of kids. Many are in good jobs. They’ve built houses for their parent.”

The Mahar­ishi Insti­tute in the Johan­nes­burg city cen­tre, which Blecher estab­lished in 2007 using same prin­ci­pals, is a thriv­ing school with flow­ing dona­tions. But he said, “I love Cida. Since I left I’ve always offered to help it. For me it’s like a baby that you brought up. You don’t want to it suf­fer. I’m hop­ing they res­cue it”.

The res­cue efforts led by Rob Dev­ereux, a busi­ness res­cue prac­ti­tioner, are meant to return Cida to its glory days. “When I leave here there will be a proper man­age­ment team and a proper board. It’s key to the longevity of Cida,” Dev­ereux said.


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