Pretoria - The Medical University of SA (Medunsa) was under siege for five hours on Thursday, when striking medical students went on the rampage, breaking security gates and smashing glass doors.
The demonstrators ordered a lockdown of entrances and exits as they protested against alleged irregularities at the institution.
In the ensuing chaos, the public and staff, – including lecturers, general workers and administration staff – could not leave or enter the varsity. The crowd overturned a Medunsa vehicle and lit a fire next to it, blockading the exit lane of the main gate and causing immense frustration and long queues, as staff – some with small children in their cars – tried to leave.
The lockdown was ordered after more than 1 000 students had forced open security gates at the administration block, demanding that seven lecturers leave their offices and be escorted off campus.
The students had delivered a memorandum listing seven demands to acting deputy vice-chancellor Professor Tsepho Gugushe, among which were allegations that fifth-year paediatric students were being victimised.
“We demand the lecturers vacate their offices and leave campus within 15 minutes, failing which we will forcefully remove them,” SRC president Melusi Marakalala said to loud applause after handing over the memorandum.
Certain professors, and a Mr Croucamp, would interfere with investigations if they remained at the institution, they charged. “We also demand that lecturer Botha be suspended and investigated with immediate effect over her suspicious qualification,” the memo read.
After singing and toyi-toyiing, and a loud countdown of the 15 minutes, a crowd surged forward to the main administration entrance, breaking the security gates’ padlocks and storming into the building.
They ran up several flights of stairs, breaking glass and grabbing fire extinguishers. The group then occupied the space outside the executive suite, singing and demanding that the lecturers come out.
They sang about their patience wearing thin, and then smashed the glass doors to reach the security gate, which they damaged, before being begged to stop by members of the National Education, Health and Allied Workers Union.
They left the building and searched adjoining buildings for the lecturers, and the parking lots for their cars. When they were confirmed to have slipped out through back exits, the students marched to the gate, where they instructed security to lock it. “Who is in must stay in, and those outside out,” the students chanted. At a meeting they agreed not to go back to class until they were addressed on their grievances, and the lecturers suspended.
Marakalala said: “We demanded a meeting with executives, where they must show us the suspension letters, because they cannot be here while being investigated. Some of these people have questionable qualifications, others have an agenda against students,” he said, adding they were a “mafia” not wanted on campus.
The students vowed to root out racism, nepotism and unfair practices. There would be no classes until issues were addressed satisfactorily, and the objects of their displeasure removed, they said.
The gates were opened at 4pm, but the students said they would again be locked this morning.
Higher education officials were unable to comment after being held up in the budget debate in Parliament all day on Thursday.
* The removal of lecturers, teaching fifth-year paediatrics students, who victimised students and failed a certain number every academic year.
* The immediate promotion of affected students to sixth-year with full credit when academic programme resumes.
* Warning mathematics head of department that students were aware of his nepotism tendencies in hiring staff.
* Demands on residences, including internal advertising, of vacant residence space to allow students to apply.
* Installation of internet connectivity at Medcity for post-graduate students who occupy the facility.