Student injured as sjamboks fly in Stellenbosch college protest

Johannesburg - At least one student was injured in a protest that turned violent at the Elsenburg Agricultural Training Institute in Stellenbosch on Tuesday, as people who tried to enter lecture halls were sjambokked.

''This morning higher-certificate students locked a lecture hall for a test,'' a student told News24. ''Management asked them to open it and got their own bolt cutters and managed to cut the chain off the gate.

''But as they started opening the door, there was resistance from the EFF [Economic Freedom Fighters]. A fight broke out and the okes started hitting each other with sjamboks,'' the shocked student said.

He said there are two types of courses at the college, a degree in agricultural studies and a higher-certificate course.

The college offers half of the studies in English and the other half in Afrikaans.

The student said on Monday many of the higher-certificate students started disrupting lectures because they want all the courses to be offered in English.

''I am completely English-speaking, so I understand [the issue],'' he said.

During Tuesday's confrontation he said that one of the Afrikaans-speaking students was badly hurt with a deep sjambok cut on his neck.

University management tried to break up the protest and the fighting, but the singing and shouting made it difficult.

''They [the management] tried to mediate and asked them [the students] to work through the right platforms. They didn't want to get violent.''

''I have black mates on my course that were too scared to come to the test, otherwise they would be pressured into doing what the EFF want.''

The college falls under the Western Cape Department of Agriculture, with its degree courses underwritten by the University of Stellenbosch, which has its own problems over language policies and alleged racism on campus as depicted in the documentary ''Luister''.

Department spokeswoman Petro Van Rhyn said Public Order Police helped reopen classes after they were suspended by protesters on Monday.

She confirmed that one student had to get medical care after Tuesday's clash.

''We take this in an extremely serious light. We have zero tolerance for violence of any sort,'' said Van Rhyn.

In response to complaints at the college, its council has instituted a task team to discuss a new language policy with all concerned. It has already held several meetings with the Student Representative Council, the House Committee and students.

Independent mediators have been appointed to facilitate the transformation process, as well as diversity management training and conflict resolution involving students, lecturers and administrative staff.

The college asked students who experienced any form of racism or discrimination to report it. The college regards recent developments as an opportunity to introduce a total change management process within the broader context of transformation, the department said.  

Afriforum Youth said non-protesting students had helped remove the EFF supporters. They had also contracted a private security company to ensure the safety of non-protesting students and indicated they would obtain an interdict against the protesting EFF students.

''Legal action against the police will also be considered since they failed to enforce order and protect the students despite being present at the scene,'' said Afriforum Youth national chairperson Henk Maree.

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