Cape Town - Students at Cape Peninsula University of Technology (CPUT) were embroiled in violent racial clashes on Thursday, leaving some with head wounds.
Lectures were halted and the university was in lockdown while vehicles were prevented from entering or leaving.
The clash erupted between two groups of students, one black the other white, after about 300 protesting students blockaded both main gates of the university and stopped vehicles from passing through. During the clash, some students were injured when bricks and stones were hurled at them.
A CPUT student, who refused to have her name published, claimed she and other protesters had prevented cars from going in or out. A group of white students then started assaulting them and told them to get out of the way.
“They started pushing us to the ground and forcing their way past. That’s when we fought back because we explained to them why we were blocking the gate.
“But they refused to listen and started to fight us. Why can’t they join us as fellow students? Why must they learn while we struggle.
“We are poor and don’t have money,” she said.
A student struck by a brick said he was next to the gate when the protesters attacked him and his friends. They all asked that their names not be published.
“They threw a brick at my head. I was standing here doing nothing. When we got here, they were already standing with bricks and stones in hand. Then they started throwing them at people,” he said.
He said the protesters did not want other students to attend their classes.
“Why do you have to shut the whole university and start throwing stones at people just to make a point? Why can’t you talk like civilised people to one another? Why do you need to attack people?” said another CPUT student who had been injured in the fight.
Students who were not part of the protest found themselves forced out of classes, the library and from their buses.
Public Order Police arrived to intervene and used stun grenades to disperse the crowd.
CPUT spokesman Thami Nkwanyana could not confirm if there had been any damage to property on Thursday. At the CPUT campus in Cape Town, lectures were suspended and students told to go home. Security kept a close watch.
The protest started on Monday when two students were arrested. They were released on Tuesday, when CPUT management held a meeting with the Student Representative Council (SRC) in an attempt to resolve the students’ grievances.
Several windows were smashed during the protest.
The students demanded that the university allow the registration of students who owed the institution money, Nkwanyana said.
“Given the historical background of the institution as one of the most accommodating in terms of low student registration and
tuition fees, it also has to be sustainable and operate optimally.
“The university council made an effort to arrest the accumulation of student debt.
“This has been done without excluding academically deserving students, but by introducing measures that specify the different
amounts, depending on the debt, that students should pay before they can register in line with rules of the National Credit Act,”
SRC deputy president Vuyani Moerane said students felt the university did not take students’ demands seriously.
They demanded, among other things, that students be allowed to register, irrespective of whether they had outstanding debt from last year, or whether they could afford to pay the registration fee.