Parliament heard on Tuesday that the Fees Must Fall movement caused damages that cost universities across the country more than R786 million, Business Day reports.
The Fees Must Fall was a campaign kickstarted in 2015 by students who called for free higher education.
In 2015/16 universities reported damages amounting to R492.4 million, and in 2016/17, the cost stood at R237.7 million, and in 2017/2018 it was R56.5 million.
The North West University reported damages amounting to R198 million following the torching of its Mahikeng campus, while R144 million in damages was reported by the University of Johannesburg and the University of KwaZulu-Natal estimated the cost of damages from the library that was burnt down to be more than R100 million.
The cost of damages caused by the protests was revealed to Parliament on Tuesday in a written response by Higher Education and Training Minister Naledi Pandor.
Pandor was responding to a question posed by the Democratic Alliance (DA).
The minister’s spokesperson told the publication that Pandor was concerned about the costs linked to the damages done to the institutions.
The spokesperson, Lunga Ngqengelele, said the department would have to use money budgeted for other projects to rebuild damaged infrastructure, which would be “a huge setback”.
The DA’s shadow minister of higher education and training, Belinda Bozzoli, told the newspaper the R786 million could have been used to build at least two new residences at poorer universities, which receive an estimated state subsidy of R800 million a year.
Bozzoli added the money could have gone towards funding thousands of students’ expenses.
Universities South Africa CEO Ahmed Bawa said he suspected the costs could be much more, as the cited figures did not include the costs of additional security and study time lost during protests.
Bawa, however, expressed his confidence that the quality of education remained at a decent level at universities, adding that in some instances it would be near impossible to replace some of the destroyed infrastructures.
He said at some of the universities, in particular historically disadvantaged institutions, student protests still caused disruptions as students protested over financial aid and a shortage of accommodation.