Students and cops clash in PMB protest

2010-09-09 00:00

VIOLENT skirmishes broke out between police and students at the University of KwaZulu-Natal in Pietermaritzburg yesterday after the police allegedly threw teargas and fired rubber bullets to break up a protest.

Over 250 students were protesting against the alleged planned privatising of student residences.

Yesterday’s action followed protests on campuses in the city, Durban and Westville, and resulted in the cancellation of classes and the closure of the library for the day.

Anticipating problems after non-striking students were intimidated and an overhead projector in one of the lecturer rooms was broken, apparently by the students, police dispatched several vehicles to the campus.

The students were ordered to demonstrate only on the library lawns, but they broke out of the barrier and headed towards the student housing office.

This led to a clash with the police who chased them and forced them back to the demarcated area.

The police allegedly fired rubber bullets at the fleeing students, who then retaliated by throwing rocks at them.

Several students were arrested and temporarily detained. Tempers flared again when two police officers assaulted two students in full view of the other students.

One officer was seen hitting a student, who had fallen down, on the back with a rifle and another kicked a student inside a police vehicle, further enraging the protesters.

Leaders of the protest and senior staffers at the university who witnessed the fracas blamed the police for the skirmishes and said they were overzealous in their action.

One of the leaders of the protest said, “They dispatched so many police cars to guard us and that was a cause for concern because we had been engaging in a peaceful protest.

“They first threw a teargas canister, which did not work, and when we broke the protest barrier they shot at us.”

Another source said the students were protesting peacefully before the police intervened.

“They [police] claim they fired after the student threw rocks at them, but in fact the students threw rocks in retaliation for the shooting.”

Police spokesperson Warrant Officer Joey Jeevan denied the police had fired rubber bullets, saying they had merely used stun grenades to disperse the crowds.

The students said privatising the residences would disadvantage them.

Nomonde Mbadi, executive director of corporate relations at the university, said the protest was based on misinformation because there are no plans to privatise the residences.

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