Durban - An online war of words has been raging between students over the Durban University of Technology strike, amid claims of hate speech and racism.
Many angry students have taken to the student representative council’s (SRC’s) Facebook page to voice dissatisfaction at the closing and disruption of classes since January during protests about student funding.
On the other hand, many other equally angry students have supported the SRC’s demands and protest action.
The DUT suspended the SRC leadership last week after an illegal protest that disrupted classes for two days.
There have been threatening posts directed at DUT rector Professor Ahmed Bawa and others, calling on self-funded students to get out of DUT – “the land of black people with no money to study” – and go to institutions where they would not be interrupted by strikes.
Bawa said staff, parents and students had complained of comments made on Facebook.
“Parents and students sent us screenshots of the offensive posts. We were shocked by the comments online, especially the posts that promoted hate speech, incited violence and the comments that were clearly racist,” said Bawa this week.
“The post that called on students to ‘bring petrol on to campus and then burn the place down’ was extremely disturbing. The racist attacks must be condemned in the strongest manner, and DUT views these threats very seriously. We will be laying a charge with the relevant authorities,” he said.
One angry student, who wrote to the Daily News and asked to remain anonymous, said she had been “chased out of class and out of the building by the SRC”.
She said that on Monday last week her lecturer had to lock his students in the lecture room for their own safety.
“We sat in silence waiting for them to leave. We could hear them intimidating other students in the other lecture rooms. They were even chasing the lab technicians out of their offices,” she said.
“In the first strike at the beginning of the year, they were throwing stones at students. They are single-minded and against anyone who doesn’t have the same beliefs as them… We are the victims. We are the ones being intimidated, being forced to leave class, being shot at,” she said.
The student said she was afraid as she did not know when the violence might erupt.
She accused the SA Students’ Congress-led SRC of oppressing students. “The SRC and Sasco are denying us education. They claim to be for the students, but as a student they are against me,” she said.
Suspended DUT SRC president, Ayanda Ngidi, distanced the SRC from the posts.
“We can’t find the person who has been uploading these posts on Facebook,” he said.
Ngidi said “nobody wants to burn” anything at the institution, and he denied that students were being intimidated.
“Our gripe has been with the security guards, never with other students. We deny we have violently distracted classes – we asked students to peacefully join us in our fight for free education,” he said.
Isaac Mangena, a Human Rights Commission spokesman, said anyone who wanted to lay a complaint could approach the provincial offices.