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WATCH: Fire extinguishers discharged, windows broken during UFS fees protest

20 October, 12:54 PM

Iavan Pijoos

Bloemfontein – Terrified students at the University of the Free State were left gasping for air after protesters discharged a fire extinguisher in their confined classroom during a semester test.

The incident happened at around 15:50 on Thursday afternoon following a meeting between the university's executive management and the Student Representative Council (SRC) about a proposed 8% tuition fee increase.

When asked about the incident, university spokesperson Lacea Loader said she would respond at a later stage.

Second year education student, Marco Joubert said a woman outside their exam venue had started filming the protest when it began, but protesters didn't take kindly to being filmed and started pushing her around.

"Luckily her son was present to rescue her from the protesters. The protesters said they would return at a later stage."

Despite the disruptions, their semester test went ahead as scheduled at 16:00 with a security guard keeping watch at the door.

Difficult to breathe

"We were able to write for about an hour and a half, before protesters started knocking at the door and I assume that they surrounded the security guard outside the door."

Joubert said the protesters then returned and discharged a fire extinguisher through the small windows of the classroom.

The students were left cowering in the corners of the classroom.

"Myself and a female classmate started breaking the windows in order for us to breathe."

Joubert said the female student collapsed after seeing the injuries that they had both sustained on their hands.

The two students were taken to hospital by ambulance.

Joubert said he received five stitches and was not sure how many the female student received. 

"We feared for our lives, because we didn't know what to expect next."

Loader told News24 that no final decision had been made regarding the 8% increase.

UFS spokesperson Lacea Loader said the university was aware of the incident. 

"Disruptive behaviour such as this is unacceptable and will not be tolerated. A call has been made to staff and students to submit video recordings and/or photos of incidents like this to our Protection Services."

Loader said students who are identified while taking part in these incidents would be disciplined. 

She said the situation on both campuses is monitored and that the necessary contingency plans are in place to ensure the safety of staff and students; and to safeguard university property. 

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