UKZN closed as 14 arrested

2020-02-05 16:13
Fixtures inside the William O’Brien building reduced to rubble after part of the building was set alight on Monday night.

Fixtures inside the William O’Brien building reduced to rubble after part of the building was set alight on Monday night.

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Fourteen students have been arrested for being involved in violent protesting across all University of KwaZulu-Natal campuses in the past week.

Police confirmed one student at the Pietermaritzburg campus was arrested for an incident on Monday night where a storage room at an exam venue was torched. He faces charges of public violence and damage to property and is expected to appear in court soon.

UKZN said another 13 students were arrested for protesting at Edgewood, Howard and Westville campuses.  

This comes as UKZN shut its doors during the first week of the academic year for the second year in a row because of protesting, with the academic programme only set to resume next Monday.

At the Pietermaritzburg campus, an annex to the William O’Brien exam venue was set alight amid clashes between students and police on Monday night.

The area included a storage space, kitchen, guardhouse and an office. It is directly opposite a student residence.

ukzn protest

Firefighters on Tuesday put out  the last embers at the William O’Brien building. 

This is the second time in about three years that part of the same exam venue has been set alight, and it is not far from another building that was just refurbished after fire damage.

The Risk Management Services (RMS) headquarters in Durban’s Westville campus and an office for the HIV and Aids Support Unit on Howard campus were also torched this week.

But the Pietermaritzburg campus Student Representative Council (SRC) on Tuesday told The Witness that protesting would not stop until UKZN’s “arrogant management” came to the party on a range of issues, including allowing students with historical debt to register.

The SRC said students have just nine days to resolve outstanding debt issues before registration ends, and the SRC says students in debt have to pay 15% of that debt before registering, some having to pay tens of thousands of rands.

UKZN, however, is adamant that it cannot grant too much leeway to students, having previously said the university’s debt stood at about R1,7 billion at the end of last year.

The university has informed students that no student had to pay 100% of their debt before registration, the maximum amount of debt payable before registration is R45 000, and nearly 70% of pupils in debt would have to pay a maximum of R15 000.

Unathi Dimane, the SRC president at the Pietermaritzburg campus, said the SRC was struggling to negotiate with management. She did not have any information as to how the William O’Brien building caught alight.

“We don’t encourage students to burn buildings, and I doubt any student in their right mind would do that.”

Staff and students, meanwhile, described going to UKZN was like “walking into a danger zone” in the wake of the fire on Monday night. 

The university’s HR division sent a message to staff advising them to leave campus when necessary because campuses had become “volatile and unpredictable”.

Kavendren Padayachee, a third-year student, said he relived memories of the William O’Brien venue being torched in his first year.

He said student protests happened like clockwork at UKZN.

“They always start in early February and late March so no one is surprised anymore. I do see that sometimes first years are too afraid to return and wait until everything is settled.

“It’s so stressful to meet the demands of student life, and that’s being made worse by protesting.”

Padayachee has been caught in protest crossfire before.

“Last year I was in a lecture and someone sprayed pepper spray up into the fans and it went into my eyes. Yesterday as we walked to class protesters threw branches and rocks at people.”

One veteran staff member at the Pie-termaritzburg campus feared UKZN’s reputation will be damaged by all the protests, adding it felt like walking into a minefield during times of protest.

“It is an unsafe environment and anything can just erupt.

“All universities do this, but UKZN always sets the trend every year. It needs to be addressed.”

UKZN spokesperson Ashton Boderick said the university “strongly denounces all acts of criminal behaviour”.


Read more on:    pietermaritzburg  |  ukzn protests

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