Protests shut UKZN down

2016-09-07 10:02
Protesting students blocked King Edward Avenue with burning beds, microwaves and fridges from residences on Tuesday.

Protesting students blocked King Edward Avenue with burning beds, microwaves and fridges from residences on Tuesday. (Thabang Mathebula)

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Lectures at the University of Kwa­Zulu-Natal have been suspended for two weeks after student protest action intensified at all campuses  on Tuesday.

The violence spilled into the streets around the Pietermaritzburg campus as students clashed with police throughout the day.

The protests, which are now into their third week, were originally started by student bodies demanding free education and the abolition of annual fee increases.

However, now the students also want police and a private security contingent employed by the university to be expelled from campus property.

Speaking to The Witness  on Tuesday, student leader Khuma Wakeni said universities and the government have the funds to provide free education, but choose not to.

“It is a mockery of our struggle. The money is there, but their [universities’] priorities are not. The power to provide free education is with the universities,” Wakeni said.

“The police must stop intimidating us. We will take them on.”

Asked if he thought the police and security guards would act against students if the students did not damage property, Wakeni said the students were being provoked by the presence of the police and guards on campus.

“The minute students militarise together in protest, it stimulates emotions. This is a struggle for power between students and police, and they are provoking us. We are just being reactionary. We are psychologically forced to react,” he said.

“Guards came into our residences [on Sunday night], broke down our doors, took us from our rooms and victimised us. We do not have a problem with them guarding the buildings, but they must not attack us.”

Police and guards waged battles with students at the Westville and Pietermaritzburg campuses late into Sunday night.

It is believed several university and security vehicles were torched at Westville, and that the Senate’s council chambers were also set alight.

The Witness spotted students marching along Golf Road in Pietermaritzburg around midday  on Tuesday, under the watchful eye of a strong police contingent.

The group then turned into the Commerce block of the campus, where some students began slamming on the doors of lecture venues and overturning vending machines in the corridor.

Officers were quick to respond, sending the students scurrying away in a cloud of tear gas. In the flurry, a group of students overturned a vehicle belonging to the Hexagon Theatre.

The group of about 300 students then assembled on the main campus where leaders addressed the crowd.

Standing in a straight line between the students and the police, holding each other’s hands were a group of academics employed at the university.

The lecturers were standing in solidarity with the students and demanded that the violence end.

“Police and security guards are using brutality, tear-gassing students in their residences. They are not protecting anybody. There will not be another Marikana here,” one lecturer said.

After the gathering, the students took to the streets, marching down Alan Paton Avenue en route to the KwaZulu-Natal Legislature offices in the CBD.

A few metres away from Scottsville Mall, police confronted the students with tear gas and rubber bullets, sending them tripping over each other as they fled.

The students scattered into the mall and surrounding residences as police resumed their patrols.

An hour later, the violence erupted again.

The students barricaded King Edward Avenue with beds, fridges and microwaves that they had set alight, and hurled stones at police and passing cars.

Some students were injured when police retaliated with rubber bullets.

Speaking to The Witness  on Tuesday, ER24’s Andrew Rogers said paramedics attended to several people, some of whom had sustained injuries from the rubber bullets and others with head injuries from rocks thrown by students.

It is believed that 25 students were arrested at the Westville campus  on Tuesday.

A number of students were also arrested at the Pietermaritzburg campus.

UKZN spokesperson Lesiba Seshoka said the management had decided to bring forward the September recess period because of the ongoing protest action. The university would be closed from Wednesday until September 19.

Seshoka said students had set fire to university property, security guards’ huts, bins and furniture. This was despite UKZN having an interdict in place, protecting the university against “unlawful protests, disruptive gatherings, demonstrations, mass action, intimidation or any violent act to persons or property at the entrance and premises of university campuses”.

“A number of students found to be engaging in illegal and destructive activity were apprehended and are now in police custody. Students are requested to follow established protocols and raise any issue of concern with their respective SRC representatives,” he said.

Read more on:    pietermaritzburg

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