The ruling ANC and the opposition DA on Wednesday condemned the violence and destruction at the University of KwaZulu-Natal, where vehicles and buildings were set alight during protests against anticipated fee hikes.
The student protests have resulted in police arresting scores in the past three weeks, while the university’s Senate Chambers on the Westville Campus and the law library on the Howard College campus were set alight.
Six cars were also set alight on the university’s Westville campus, and there have been running battles between students and police.
“The ANC condemns the destruction of university property and the intimidation and harassment of university leaders as part of student activism around the issue of free university education,” said Naledi Pandor, the chairperson for the ANC NEC Sub-Committee on Education and Health.
She added: “The burning of books and university infrastructure is reprehensible and has no connection to the calls for free education for the poor.”
Pandor said the burning of books was a symbolic act of anti-intellectualism.
“In the 1930s, the German Student Union, a Nazi structure, ran a book-burning campaign, targeting books written by Jews, liberals and communists. It was a prelude to Fascism and the Holocaust,” said Pandor.
She said destroying university property and harassing university leaders was illegal.
“Unlawful conduct cannot be justified by the mistaken belief that burning books is an attack on white monopoly capital,” said Pandor.
“Our country must expose this vandalism that seeks to hold universities to ransom in the name of decolonisation.
“The ANC calls on students and staff at all universities to reject violence and to ensure the Fees Commission completes its work timeously.
“We call on university authorities to be vigilant and call on students to protest lawfully and to direct their activism through appropriate university and political structures,” said Pandor.
She said the ANC was confident that a solution would be found to ensure no young person from a poor family was denied higher education.
“We urge the government to determine a solution that ensures those who can afford to pay fees do so and those who do not have the financial means are supported by state resources.”
In a strongly worded statement, the DA said it condemned “in the strongest terms” the violence and the destruction of property at three of the university’s five campuses.
“The library was not completely destroyed, but it was seriously damaged. This library is widely regarded as a national and continental asset and was substantially renovated and improved after 1994,” said the DA statement.
“Its holdings are precious and irreplaceable. Like all significant libraries, it has taken years, even decades, to accumulate its contents.”
The DA said while it respected students’ right to protest, they needed to be reminded of their responsibility to respect the property of universities.
“Destroying a library is effectively destroying the accumulated work of hundreds of people over a long period of time, and is an attack on the intellectual heart of any university.”
The DA called for calm across all university campuses in South Africa, “as we work together to find a solution to the fee crisis in Higher Education. We also call on law enforcement to make sure those responsible for this arson face the full might of the law”.
“Violence and vandalism are never solutions to problems we may encounter. Not only will this destruction cost the already financially distressed university money, but it will also not help the protesters’ cause,” said the DA.
“These actions will only set back any progress made to ensure South African universities are inclusive and functioning institutions for all.”
University authorities shut down the institution on Tuesday and said it would only reopen on 20 September.
– African News Agency (ANA)