A protest that started as a hunger strike at Witwatersrand University on Tuesday became a campus shutdown yesterday as stones and stun grenades flew between students and security personnel.
Wits management’s delays in responding to registration and accommodation woes had frustrated the student protesters – and their rage boiled over yesterday.
The university threatened to suspend and take legal action against students involved in trying to “destabilise” the university.
Yesterday, about 50 masked protesters reportedly blocked two of the institution’s main entrances and attempted to disrupt all lectures on one campus. This led to students throwing stones and the police reportedly firing stun grenades.
The university sent out a statement that read: “We are of the view that these individuals do not have the interests of our students at heart.
“Their aim is to disrupt learning and to hold higher education institutions to ransom in order to advance their own political agenda.
“Their agenda has nothing to do with free education, but is rather a deliberate attempt to destabilise our university.
“We need to expose these persons who are today on our campus trying to disrupt lectures and to shut down our campuses.
“We need to expose them, suspend them if they are students and have them arrested if they are threatening people, infringing on the rights of others to learn and work and damaging property.”
Despite the rain yesterday afternoon, the protesting students continued to sing struggle songs at the top of their lungs outside Solomon Mahlangu House on the campus as they waited for management to respond to their demands.
The university said it was still open to negotiations with the students and would be working on their security plans, which would include the institution’s security staff, private security guards and the South African Police Service, to ensure that academic programmes continued as planned.
The statement added: “Forgive us if there are minor disruptions or delays – we cannot be held to ransom by a few selfish individuals.”
- The University of KwaZulu-Natal‘s five campuses were calm yesterday after protests led to the suspension of all academic activities on Monday until further notice.
- University spokesperson Normah Zondo said: “Acts of arson were carried out overnight by protesters on the Pietermaritzburg campus. The university is assessing damage on all campuses. All five campuses are being monitored by University Risk Management Services.”
- She said the university was open to engaging with the student leaders and other important stakeholders and that the safety of the institution’s community was important to them, declaring the university to be a “lethal weapon free zone”.
- The University of Venda was also shut down recently. Student Representative Council member Zoro Shikwanbana said the protests started at midnight on Wednesday. “No Nsfas (National Student Financial Aid Scheme) student has received their allowance. The university said they no longer want to pay us through IntelMali, but didn’t explain why. Instead they want to carry out a manual collection of bank statements of Nsfas beneficiaries. This will take a long time and we need our allowances to start class,” said Shikwanbana.
- University of Venda’s director of communications Takalani Dzaga said students were demanding payment of outstanding Msfas allowances from last year, that historic debts be scrapped and no increase in residence fees, among other issues.