Chaos erupted on Wednesday when hundreds of protesting students from Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University took the fight for free tertiary education to the streets in Summerstrand, Port Elizabeth, marching all the way to the Boardwalk Casino and Hotel.
Students initially agreed to be escorted by police to the university’s 2nd Avenue Campus. Chaos later erupted when students blocked off the road by sitting in the streets, with some attempting to enter the Boardwalk entertainment premises. The students refused to back down and stoned police officials who barred access.
Public Order Police fired stun grenades and used shields to divert angry students who then dispersed into smaller groups.
Police spokesperson Colonel Priscilla Naidu confirmed that eight students were arrested on charges relating to public violence, the National Road Traffic Act and for obstructing police officials.
The students, five females and three men, were taken to Humewood Police Station and are expected to appear in the Port Elizabeth Magistrates’ Court soon.
Earlier in the day hundreds of students wearing South African Students Congress, Economic Freedom Fighters, Democratic Alliance and African National Congress T-shirts gathered outside the university’s South Campus Kraal and waited for university management while singing struggle songs.
The university has been on a shutdown since Tuesday and lectures will continue to be suspended on Thursday.
Student representative council president Nicholas Nyati, who addressed students at The Kraal earlier on Wednesday, said the protest was meant to create awareness surrounding their fight for free education for the poor.
Nyati said that university management proved that they were not “humbled” to the plight of students in the fight for free education.
He said the protest was not about Higher Education and Training Minister Blade Nzimande’s fees announcement made earlier this week, but rather student funding.
“Blade made an announcement that many people are celebrating, he said a zero percent fee increment for the poor, the missing middle. I cannot afford R25 000 now, how will we afford it next year? What Blade said is that I will continue to exploit you with the help of university management,” he said.
Nyathi told cheering students that Nzimande’s statements and university management continued to push to divide students.
“Our management here at the beginning of January wanted to be flamboyant, they said come register for free but they didn’t give me textbooks, they didn’t give us food to eat and they did not pay for my residence. It’s fine; I struggled and I’m here now, but now I get this email to say I wont get my results, it’s debt relief,” said Nyati.
Other immediate issues students want management to address include debt relief and allowances.
Acting vice-chancellor Dr Sibongile Muthwa earlier endorsed the fight for free tertiary education for the poor. Muthwa spoke to a group of protesting students at the South Campus on Tuesday.
However, Muthwa was not in support of students marching through the streets of Port Elizabeth and refused a request to have her lead the protest to The Boardwalk on Wednesday.
By early evening students gathered outside the Humewood Police Station in support of the students who had been arrested.
– African News Agency (ANA)