Arson attack at UKZN disrupts calm

2016-11-09 12:51
A group of protesters allegedly set fire to the University of KwaZulu-Natal’s Finance offices at the Pietermaritzburg campus yesterday. It is believed the group used petrol bombs, which left a room gutted by the flames.

A group of protesters allegedly set fire to the University of KwaZulu-Natal’s Finance offices at the Pietermaritzburg campus yesterday. It is believed the group used petrol bombs, which left a room gutted by the flames. (Ian Carbutt)

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After weeks of calm at universities across the province, the violence has once again flared up in Pietermaritzburg with a building being torched on Tesday.

Sources at the University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN) said although there have been no mass gatherings or violent altercations with police, a small group of students allegedly “incited chaos” at the campus by torching an office and setting a bin alight inside another building.

It is believed the group allegedly torched an office under the cover of darkness at the university’s Finance block on the main campus.

The students allegedly broke the window of the office and threw a Molotov cocktail through the burglar guards.

The fire quickly spread, gutting the entire office.

It is believed a guard, an employee of the private security company contracted by the university, Mi7, came across the fire during his patrols at about 5am.

The fire department was immediately contacted and firefighters extinguished the blaze.

When The Witness arrived at the campus on Tuesday, the building’s fire alarm was still ringing and staff had abandoned the offices.

The building was cordoned off by tape and, peering through the windows, it appeared as though one office was left blackened by the fire.

The source said a computer and documents had been damaged in the fire.

“Classes and tests have been continuing smoothly but this small group of students seem determined to incite chaos at the university. Students and staff just want to get on with their work until the semester ends. Let us hope we can do so in peace,” the source said.

Just before midday yesterday, there was another attempted arson attack.

A bin was set alight on the first floor of the Rabie Saunders building on the Agricultural campus.

The fire was quickly extinguished by university security before any major damage could be incurred.

No arrests have been made thus far but university spokesperson Lesiba Seshoka said Risk Management Services has examined video footage of the area around the Finance offices and a suspect has been taken in for questioning by police.

“The full extent of the damage is currently being assessed,” Seshoka said.

The two acts of arson came after a message circulated on social media and various student forums that details planned attacks and “rolling chaos” said to be planned by the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) and their student supporters.

However, EFF MPL Vukani Ndlovu yesterday rubbished the claims, calling the statement “a bunch of lies”.

The statement said EFF members and students had travelled into KZN at the weekend with a plan to cause “maximum disruption” to academic institutions.

The Durban University of Technology, UKZN’s Edgewood campus, the Nelson Mandela Medical School and the Mangosuthu University of Technology were among the tertiary institutions said to be targeted.

“This will start off with peaceful protests and media conferences … during which marchers will do their best to provoke police and private security companies,” the statement read.

“Following on from these marches, small groups of Durban activists, bolstered by activists from other provinces, plan to attack students and academics taking part in peaceful studies or writing exams.”

Ndlovu said the party would never dispatch its activists to disrupt, or plot to disrupt, any academic activity.

“We are not a violent organisation at all. This statement is a plot to discredit the EFF. These things [violence under the banner of the #FeesMustFall campaign] have been happening without our interference,” Ndlovu said.

Read more on:    pietermaritzburg  |  ukzn protests

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