Battlefield on campus

2014-02-22 00:00

THE University of KwaZulu-Natal, Westville campus, was turned into a battlefield yesterday as security forces used teargas, rubber bullets and military tactics in running skirmishes with rioting students.

In a protest marking the key final day of registration for university enrolment, about 100 students hurled rocks and debris at police and security guards to demonstrate against financial aid restrictions. At least one student was taken to hospital, while four others were arrested.

There were broken windows and emptied trash cans all over campus, and so many rocks thrown that police needed orange crates to load them and cart them away. Meanwhile, the majority of students who were not involved had nowhere to go, sheltering nervously in their lecture halls and watching with eyes streaming from the teargas.

Expressing their anger at shortages in the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS), protesting students chanted slogans and sang struggle songs. After an hour of stone-throwing in the morning and a crackdown by security, students regrouped after lunch hour in waves of anger.

Weekend Witness photographer Ian Carbutt found himself in the firing line following an ambush mounted by a security force platoon that blanketed retreating students in a volley of tear gas and rubber bullets with military precision.

Police were overheard instructing guards to collect rocks to deny students “ammo”. Later, the main courtyard where students had gathered was cleared, although lectures were cancelled for most disciplines.

University spokesperson Lesiba Seshoka said the security had been increased at lecture venues on campus. “Management has an open-door policy with the student leadership, and we appeal to students not to engage in violent protests and to raise issues through the appropriate channels,” Seshoka said.

Classes have been disrupted and others cancelled across UKZN campuses since protests rolled like a tsunami when the university opened its doors for the new academic year.

On Thursday, 26 students were arrested for public violence at Howard College, after students at both Howard College and Nelson R. Mandela School of Medicine campuses embarked on a protest.

The 26 students appeared at the Durban Magistrate’s Court yesterday on charges of public violence and contempt of the high court order that was obtained by the university. They were released on warning and the matter was adjourned to April.

South African Students Congress (Sasco) provincial chairperson Dumo Ntyinkala said they were still fighting over the financial aid debacle. He said 1 600 out 10 000 first year students were funded by NSFAS at UKZN.

Sasco said there were students who were excluded from residences due to NSFAS failing to pay all the outstanding fees from last year. He said the student arrests were making them angry and that police had provoked students “by shooting at them”.

At the Durban University of Technology, the institution had to be shut down for about 10 days due to violent protests. Things have quietened down at DUT after intervention from Minister of Higher Education and Training Dr Blade Nzimande.

A series of arrests at UKZN during the ongoing protests

February 17: Sixty students at Edgewood Campus were arrested after they disrupted classes and used pepper spray in lecture halls.

February 13: Three students were arrested at Westville campus and six were arrested at Howard College.

February 11: Three students were arrested at Edgewood campus, while classes came to the halt at the campus and at Howard College.

February 6: Seven students were detained by police after police were called to defuse a student march at UKZN, Pietermaritzburg campus.

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