UKZN students cause 'R30m worth of damage' in drunken rampage

2015-09-19 14:05
Private security personnel, holding paintball guns and known as the Black Ants, share a light moment with the photographer at the Pietermaritzburg campus. They were brought in by the university to protect property amid violent student protests that h

Private security personnel, holding paintball guns and known as the Black Ants, share a light moment with the photographer at the Pietermaritzburg campus. They were brought in by the university to protect property amid violent student protests that h

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Thirty million rand, that’s the estimate of damages caused by University of KwaZulu-Natal students, many of whom were inebriated at the time, according to sources.

Witnesses to the violence at the Pietermaritzburg campus this week, who spoke on condition of anonymity, have described how students behind the violence “would be drinking alcohol” during the day before embarking on the alcohol- and drug-induced violent protests.

The Weekend Witness saw many broken alcohol bottles, empty beer cans and plastic wine containers littered around the campus yesterday.

But the campus SRC president Richard Mhlongo said while he cannot speak for all students, the unproven claims of drunkenness “undermine” the reasons for the protest.

“The protest action is a result of the university wanting to further increase tuition fees and further burden poor students. Protests at this campus are generally peaceful but there has been a build-up of frustration and it appears the students snapped,” said Mhlongo.

He said it was an “SRC” victory to negotiate that students can remain in residences and that they would “engage management to find a way forward”.

The students were protesting about ­issues including the National Student ­Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS), fee increases and student accommodation.

Meanwhile, students at KZN’s premier tertiary institution no longer need to leave campus residences despite management ordering they be evacuated just 24 hours earlier.

Students at the university’s three major campuses — Westville, Howard College and Pietermaritzburg — were told they could remain on campus after management “received numerous requests”.

The university has closed for the upcoming week due to a scheduled break.

UKZN’s executive director of student services Dr Sibusiso Chalufu said in a bulk e-mail to staff and student organisations that the turnaround on students remaining in residences was on the request of students and staff “to attend to various academic obligations … and the recovery of lost time in preparation for tests and assignments”.

“The decision to close the student residences was precipitated by the untenable circumstances where some students and non-residence students were using residences as launch pads for the unprecedented destruction of property and the threatening of the lives of staff and other students,” said Chalufu.

The university communique said security in the residences “will be enhanced” to ensure those without permission would “not [be] allowed to occupy the place and engage in disruptive and destructive activities”.

Destruction tops millions

A well-placed university source said the damage at the Pietermaritzburg campus was in excess of R5m while the Westville damage topped R25m.

Weekend Witness has learnt that security staff used more than 25 000 paintball gun-sized bullets, some rubber and others infused with pepper spray on Thursday night alone as they tried to hold back over 400 students from causing further damage to the campus.

According to an internal university document leaked to Weekend Witness, the protests in Pietermaritzburg resulted in a Toyota Quantum windshield being damaged, the risk management service (RMS) office’s windows and doors being smashed with stones and a Toyota Avanza belonging to the campus clinic being toppled over and its doors damaged and windshield windows smashed. Stones were thrown at various campus buildings, resulting in windows being damaged.

That Wednesday night three security guards were assaulted, one so critically he had to be rushed to hospital.

On Tuesday a privately owned bus was also torched and on Thursday the Student Union building canteen’s large windows were smashed.

Police spokesperson Constable Mthokozisi Ngobesi confirmed that three students were arrested for public violence, one being a minor (aged 17) who was later released into his parents’ custody.

“Students are warned against unprotected strikes and damaging of property as these are serious criminal offences and we wish to alert them that this may impact their future negatively.

“It is not easy to be employed when you have a criminal record,” said Ngobesi.

In Westville this week students burnt cars, damaged property and looted lecture rooms.

The university said there were violent protests at both Pietermaritzburg and Edgewood campuses on Thursday evening.

Spokesperson Lesiba Seshoka said a “full investigation into all illicit criminal actions is under way both internally and externally”.

“All perpetrators found to have been involved will face the full might of the university’s disciplinary processes and, where necessary, that of the law,” said Seshoka.

He said the university is carrying out “all necessary measures required” to ensure that teaching and learning proceed “smoothly” when the semester resumes on September 28.

Read more on:    ukzn  |  pietermaritzburg  |  education  |  crime

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