It’s war in Westville, again

2015-10-08 10:55
Riot police and security guards confront students during protests at UKZN’s Westville campus in Durban

Riot police and security guards confront students during protests at UKZN’s Westville campus in Durban (Supplied)

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Pietermaritzburg - Only a day after President Jacob ­Zuma condemned violence at ­universities, UKZN’s Westville ­campus was engulfed in a wave of ­anarchy by protesting students.

From as early as 4 am yesterday, students went on the war path at the Durban campus, blocking University Road near the residences.

The road, one of the main access points into the campus, was brought to a complete halt as students ­throwing petrol bombs faced off with security guards and police who ­responded with rubber bullets.

There were conflicting reports about the number of students ­arrested. While it is believed by some that 10 students were detained by ­police and security officials, ­according to police spokesperson ­Major Thulani Zwane, only two ­suspects, aged 18 and 20, were ­arrested for public violence.

“They will appear in the Pinetown Magistrate’s Court soon,” Zwane said.

According to sources, the enraged students removed microwaves, stoves, fridges and washing machines from their own residences and ­scattered the appliances across the road to form a barrier between ­themselves and the guards.

The students then hurled petrol bombs from staircases overlooking the road in attempts to set the ­appliances alight.

The riot intensified when the guards and police were ambushed from either side of the road by ­students armed with pots of boiling oil and water, petrol bombs and bricks torn off from pavements ­surrounding the residences.

Authorities retaliated with plastic and rubber bullets, chasing down and arresting perpetrators.

Once the students retreated into the residences, the police and guards entered the building, arresting ­students who had participated in the violence.

It is believed that the university has employed about 1 500 guards from private security company Mi7 to ­protect all its campuses, 100 of whom were stationed at Westville when the violence broke out yesterday.

By 10 am there was a sizeable police presence on the campus, with ­armoured vehicles and officers ­stationed at strategic points across the campus, monitoring the ­situation.

Although many lectures resumed, students at the campus told The ­Witness that classes were empty. Many said most of the protest action took place while they were still asleep.

Others said that students were still angry after the arrest of Students’ Representative Council (SRC) members believed to be instigators of the sporadic violent attacks on UKZN campuses last month.

The Pietermaritzburg campus was not affected yesterday.

On Tuesday, the Presidency released a statement after a meeting with vice-chancellors from across the country. President Jacob Zuma condemned the violent outbursts by students and called for protests to be stopped.

On Monday, UKZN spokesperson Lesiba Seshoka said the university had come to an agreement with its students and that protests had drawn to a close.

He said yesterday’s violent outburst was because the Westville SRC president and deputy president were in prison “and a small group of students want them released”.

Seshoka said the university will not drop charges against the two and welcomed the arrests of students who engaged in violence.

“A consensus of no violence between student bodies has been reached and you will find that the protests are happening on no other campuses besides Westville,” he said.

Westville SRC members could not be reached on their cellphones yesterday, and the Presidency and SA Students’ Congress did not respond to questions.

Read more on:    durban  |  pietermaritzburg  |  ukzn  |  student protests

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