Protesters start fire in Wits lecture hall

Johannesburg - Protesters started a fire in a University of Witwatersrand lecture hall on Monday afternoon, the institution said.

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"Wits University condemns the behaviour of the approximately 150 individuals who disrupted lectures and started a fire in an empty lecture theatre on the Braamfontein campus today," it said in a statement. 

"Due to the quick reaction of campus control, the fire was quickly extinguished and electricity was restored to the building."

Wits spokesperson Shirona Patel said four seats in the lecture hall were set alight.

"We are reviewing CCTV footage to see if we can identify the culprits," she said.

"Police were brought onto campus and we are in the process of suspending and barring individuals from campus."

The institution said it believed the protest was a "politically orchestrated campaign with larger national objectives".

"The individuals who addressed the student groups today were from Wits, other universities in Gauteng, the Western and Eastern Cape and some political parties. The individuals were calling for free education for all now. 

"The university has requested the police to intervene and to arrest the individuals for their criminal behaviour and for contravening a court order that was granted earlier this year."

Johannesburg emergency services spokesperson Robert Malaudzi confirmed that there was a fire at the university's Umthombo Building, however there was no significant damage.

No one was injured in the incident.

A group of Wits students and non-students embarked on a protest at its Braamfontein campus on Monday.

Protesters earlier overturned pot plants at the institution's Senate House.

The students also made their way to the main gate, where they chanted "Fees Must Fall" to police who were blocking their way.

Additional security was brought onto campus.

EFF student command leader Vuyani Pambo addressed the protesters earlier on Monday, saying they were asking for students not to be excluded or suspended on a basis of money.

"We will continue to fight. It is either free education or jail," Pambo told a group of protesters.

"Let us find each other, across political lines and borders. Unity is what we need right now."

Pambo said the students were not protesting with their mouths closed, because they were not thugs.

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