FET campus like war zone

2012-10-12 00:00

AS TEAR gas choked the air, the protesting students desperately tried to hold their position, but only briefly. Then all hell broke loose.

The streets outside the Umgungundlovu FET College’s Midlands campus suddenly resembled a war zone as stun grenades exploded, rubber bullets flew and students scattered in all directions.

The crowd of about 300 students from Plessislaer, Northdale and Midlands campuses had descended on Pietermaritz Street to protest against poor learning facilities and living conditions.

On Wednesday, they had gathered at Northdale campus where they disrupted lectures and a choir contest. But yesterday at the Middlands campus, police came better prepared.

Before the police came, students had become unruly, upending concrete rubbish bins, blockading roads and scattering garbage on the pavement.

Trouble started after police arrived and tried to disperse the mob. When protesters ignored several warnings to disperse, the police let loose with stun grenades, tear gas and rubber bullets.

Some students were kicked and slapped by police before being forcefully shoved into the back of police vans, while others made a run for it.

Some students watching the whole drama from Church Street opposite the college were also sjamboked by the police, who seemed excessively enthusiastic about the action.

Twenty three students were arrested for illegal gathering and malicious damage to property.

Umgungundlovu FET Student Representative Council (SRC) secretary general Philani Nduli said the students were demanding textbooks, new computers, better residences and bursaries for all.

He said currently four students are forced to share one small room, and there was no kitchen facility available at all residences.

Police spokesperson Captain Thulani Zwane said they were called to deal with a volatile situation.

“A crowd of about 300 students were allegedly obstructing traffic, blockading the road and becoming unruly and destroying property of the college. After numerous requests to disperse, police were forced to retaliate and fired stun grenades and tear gas to disperse the crowd,” said Zwane.

The arrested students are due to appear in court today.

Nduli refuted claims that they destroyed property: “Why are we being attacked by police … because we were singing without disrupting [lectures] or vandalising furniture? They were brutal to us,” said Nduli.

Vanessa Warwick from Jacaranda, an old age home near the campus, said they noticed the students singing at the corner of Pietermaritz and Raven streets.

“They were making a lot of noise on the corner there blocking traffic and the police came and tried to speak to them, but they did not listen. That is why tear gas was fired. It affected some of us in the home, as we were all looking through windows from the veranda.”

Higher Education and Training spokesperson Vuyelwa Qinga said: “The college council is meeting students in an attempt to resolve the issues. The department will give council space to resolve the issues, while also conducting our own investigation in consultation with all stakeholders. We agreed that if they are not happy, they should approach management.”

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