Cape Town - Staff members, including academics, at the Cape Peninsula University of Technology's (CPUT) Cape Town campus have fled from the campus after shots were fired during a violent protest by a group of students on Thursday morning.
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A staff member who asked not to be named told News24 that they hid under their desks until it was safe to leave.
"I'm not sure who was firing shots. I got out from under my desk and ran. All staff members have left and they are completely traumatised," she said.
Entrances to the campus were manned by security guards hired for additional security, except one entrance, following rumours of a complete shutdown of the university.
"At about 08:30 this morning, a staff member sent a WhatsApp to say that students were gathering outside. Not long after, I heard what sounded like gunshots. My colleague then called me asking if I heard the shots and that's when we decided to leave. Things have been tense at CPUT since last Friday," she said.
She said upon leaving she saw students standing at entrances.
"They had stockings over their faces and I could not identify them," she added.
The students also allegedly threw stones during their protest.
CPUT acting Vice-Chancellor Dr Chris Nhlapo said their understanding was that the tension was related to two issues.
"Namely the removal of private security on campus and an insistence by student leaders that insourced workers leave their posts and travel to Bellville campus to sign contracts - despite a direct instruction that they should not leave their work stations and that the contracts would be signed at their respective campuses," Nhlapo said in a statement.
He said according to reports he was receiving, a small group of protesting students were attacking private security personnel and attempting to clear buildings with force.
"Much of the tension is also linked to the fact that yesterday [Wednesday] four student leaders were suspended and are now no longer allowed on any CPUT campus.
"The suspension comes after their alleged continued involvement in campus disruptions. The decision to suspend these students was taken after several attempts at reconciliation from the university management was snubbed," Nhlapo said.
The continued disruption of the academic programme and the blatant damage to university property can no longer be condoned, he warned.
"In an effort to secure the safety of all staff and students private security remains in place across the university and this will continue until the situation has returned to normal," Nhlapo said.
He reiterated a previous communique from Human Capital that all insourced workers are instructed not to leave their work stations.
"Any insourced worker who has left their work station is asked to immediately return to their campus; failure to adhere to this directive may see disciplinary actions instituted," he said.
At this stage campuses remain open, apart from Roeland Street, he added.
Police spokesperson Captain FC Van Wyk said damages to vehicles and campus building had been reported.
"The protesting students have been dispersed by police using a water cannon. They ran in the direction of Goodhope Centre," he said.
Police would stay in the area to monitor the situation. Campus security was also in place, he said.
Van Wyk added that the campus has been closed for the day.