More protest at UKZN

2015-10-29 10:19
A student is led away by a policeman at the UKZN Pietermaritzburg campus. (Amil Umraw, The Witness)

A student is led away by a policeman at the UKZN Pietermaritzburg campus. (Amil Umraw, The Witness)

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Pietermaritzburg - Thirteen University of KwaZulu-Natal students were arrested in Pietermaritzburg after a small gathering turned violent on the campus on Wednesday.

Armed with sticks, a group of about 50 students went on the rampage, threatening students, staff and guards before letting off fire extinguishers in lecture venues.

It is believed three security guards were assaulted in the fray and their two-way radios stolen.

UKZN, however, said lectures were continuing.

The angry students took to violence over the hundreds of exclusions expected to happen next year.

According to Students’ Representative Council (SRC) chairperson Star Radebe, many students owe fees for 2014 and 2015, and will be excluded from the academic year in 2016.

Chanting and singing

The students started chanting and singing on the main campus soon after 07:00 on Wednesday morning, before proceeding to the Malherbe, Robleigh and Brucian residences, where they allegedly bashed open doors and set off fire alarms to rouse sleeping students.

At about 09:00, the onslaught engulfed the Agricultural campus on Carbis Road as protesting students bashed lecture venue doors with their sticks and swore at staff and other students.

In one incident, two members of a private catering company were setting up for a university function when the students entered the venue and “helped themselves to tea, coffee and bottled water”.

Speaking to The Witness, an employee of the company, who asked not to be named, said she had locked herself in a room out of fear.

“It could have got really ugly. It was a little scary, but the students did not damage anything. They did take some of our tea cups though,” she said.

As the wave of violence swept through the campus, police and private security guards mobilised before starting a two-hour cat-and-mouse chase to apprehend the protesters.

The joint effort by the university’s risk management services (RMS), Mi7 security guards who are employed by the university for extra muscle, and members of various policing units resulted in 13 students being arrested on Wednesday.

The officials flocked from one campus to another, chasing down students who had split into small groups and were eventually caught hiding in various buildings and residences.

Pietermaritzburg police spokesperson Mthokozisi Ngobese said the students were arrested for contravening a court order, malicious damage to property and public violence.

They are expected to appear in court on Thursday.

'Exaggeration'

Students’ Representative Council (SRC) chairperson Star Radebe blamed “exaggeration” from the campus security for the arrest of 13 students.

“Police were misled by the campus security. They are trying to turn the students against the police,” he said.

Although Radebe admitted that the students were carrying sticks, he insisted that the protest was peaceful.

He said the protest had not been organised by the SRC.

“We all understand the students’ grievances. Now it is no longer a case of SRC organising students to protest; students are organising themselves because they are fed up with the situation,” Radebe said.

“Obviously as the current leadership we have to support the students whenever they have these protests.”

Radebe said the reason for Wednesday’s protest was because students were up in arms over academic exclusions due to the non-payment of fees.

“The reality here is that there are students who will be writing exams knowing that they will not be able to come back next year because they cannot afford to pay their outstanding fees.

“Some of these students owe the university tuition fees for this year and last year. There is no way you can expect a poor student to pay R50 000.”

The University of KwaZulu-Natal’s Lesiba Seshoka said the protest action was in violation of an existing court interdict, and the university condemned “in the strongest possible terms all acts of violence and intimidation”.

Seshoka stressed that all five of the university’s campuses would remain open.

“Every effort is being made to ensure that the 2015 academic ­programme continues uninterrupted,” he said.

Read more on:    ukzn  |  pietermaritzburg  |  education  |  university fees  |  protests

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