by NWABISA MASIZA, FATIMAH ACHMAT and ANA

Cape Town - Five hundred and sixty seven people have been arrested in connection with violent protests at universities across the country since February 1, acting national police commissioner Khomotso Phahlane said on Monday.

“To date, 567 people have been arrested in 265 cases,” said Phahlane while briefing journalists in Pretoria.

He expressed concern over several incidents of arson and petrol bomb attacks that had taken place in and around campuses across the country over the weekend.

On Friday night, several people, including students from the University of the Witwatersrand went on the rampage in Braamfontein, “stoning and setting vehicles alight”, including a South African Broadcasting Corporation vehicle, said Phahlane.

“Police reinforcements were called in and after the necessary police action, stability was restored in the early hours, only to be followed by incidents of the police on duty at Wits being sporadically stoned from the men’s residence on campus.”

Nine people, four of them “verified as students”, were arrested.

Phahlane said police officers confiscated “large quantities of petrol” found near universities.

“Police vehicles have also been attacked with petrol bombs,” he said.

The commissioner said the incidents were proof “criminal elements or groups with their own agendas had infiltrated the #FeesMustFall initiative for their own purposes”.

He said police would remain on campuses to protect students writing exams and to prevent disruptions, but added the police had not taken over operational control of any institution of higher learning in the country.

“The management and security within the institutions of higher learning remain the responsibility of the university concerned.

"SAPS will, however, continue to execute the functions of policing as provided by the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa,” he said.

Meanwhile, the Muslim Judicial Council has said it supported the call for free education as a constitutional right, based on the spirit of the Freedom Charter.

The MJC’s 1st deputy president Khaliq Alli said: “Although we support the students’ constitutional right to voice their demands in the ambit of the constitution, resorting to violence to give expression to one’s views or to articulate one’s position in an unconstitutional manner of protest is not acceptable."

UCT’s communication and marketing spokesman Elijah Moholola confirmed attempts had been made to disrupt campus activities on Monday.

At UCT’s lower campus there were incidents of faeces being flung, while at upper campus students found the Steve Biko building open and tried to get the students inside to join the protest.

On Monday, some of the UCT students explained why they were protesting.

Andile Qhina said: “I am angry. Students are in prison for fighting. Why put a student in Pollsmoor? I think it’s a way of silencing other students, which is what I don’t like.

"First, I think our cadres should be brought back. I also think black students are excluded. The highest rate of suicide is black students on university. If you come from the township, you struggle to come into this environment.”

Lindokuhle Patiwe, 20, said: “We are protesting to send a message. We are clear and resolute on bringing back all the expelled students. We can’t go back to business as usual. We want to bring back our cadres.”

Sisipho Fongoqa said: “It is about the lack of respect from management, the bad faith which they acted in, their unwillingness to come to the table. It has exposed this institutionalised and systematic racism in our society today. It has also exposed the divisions in our society and our country.”

Jessica Abrahams, 22, a student from Ottery, said: “I come from a working-class family. So middle class. My parents are divorced, but because we make above a certain amount of money, my parents need to pay and my fees are not covered. I don’t think it’s possible to have a free education.”