Calm on campus, but ...

2016-02-23 06:00
Damage caused when a petrol bomb was thrown into an office in an administration building at UCT.

Damage caused when a petrol bomb was thrown into an office in an administration building at UCT.

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While calm seems to have settled on the UCT campus after a recent protest, staff are still seething about the damage that was done and threats they received from alleged Rhodes Must Fall members.

One of the workers, who did not want to be named, said that she and fellow workers feared for their lives during the height of the protest.

“The damage that they caused was terrible,” she said.

“Watching them burn valuable paintings and books that were related to the apartheid struggle was disgusting and they should hang their heads in shame.

“[It] did their cause no good.”

Another worker pointed out that they received threats from protesters.

“They must respect our right to want to work if our duties have no bearing on their protests,” he said. “Students who were not part of the protests, lots of firstyears, were also threatened and the university cannot allow this to happen.”

At a media briefing last week UCT vice-chancellor Dr Max Price and other members of the executive discussed the events.

Price revealed that more than 75% of students staying in residence are black, as he summarised UCT’s progress in resolving the accommodation shortage that was the focus of the recent protest led by the Rhodes Must Fall movement.

“The #RhodesMustFall lobby claims that this issue is about student housing and, in particular, about black students not being given housing in residence in the university, and that white students have been given preference.

“I want to say that that is completely wrong.

“Our residence admissions policy gives strong preference, very strong preference, to students on financial aid, because in general residence accommodation is a bit cheaper than private accommodation.

“Also, it gives preference to students who are very young, if they’re not yet 18, for example.

And it gives preference to people who come from outside of Cape Town because clearly it’s more difficult for them.”

Responding to the Shackville protest and disruptions it caused Price explained that the erection of a shack was a legitimate protest, one that they thought was very clever and effective.

“We have been, we believe, very supportive and tolerant of peaceful protest and we protect that always,” he said.
“The university is a place for discussion and debate and we jealously guard that. I think our track record of the last year of dealing with Rhodes Must Fall and #FeesMustFall protests has demonstrated that we have always been open. However, we draw the line at criminality and violence and that is what has happened last week.”

“We had no problem with the fact of that protest.

“We offered and requested Rhodes Must Fall to move the shack. We did not ask them to demolish it.
“They completely rejected that and, in fact, made a statement that if we were going to move it there would be violence.
“Around 17:00 they mobilised a significant crowd of students who started lighting fires and barricades, lighting tyres.
“They invaded the residences nearby. Artworks and portraits were taken from the residences and they made a bonfire of these.
“It quickly became clear that we needed the public order policing services and they were brought in.”

During these actions there were further arson attacks where a bus was burnt and another one damaged. A police vehicle was torched, another car was burnt and there was a petrol bomb thrown into an office in the administration building.

Price further explained that order has been restored.
“We hope that students will recognise that the vandalism was not an acceptable form of protest and that they will not align themselves with this and that they will recognise that they put their futures at risk: certainly they risk expulsion if they participate in such criminal processes.”

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