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Minister slams violent student protests

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Blade Nzimande

Durban - Higher Education Minister Blade Nzimande has slammed the violent protests that have swept through some universities across the country, saying students’ right to protest should be respected, but destruction to property and violence were out of bounds.

“We condemn strongly the destruction of property. We don’t agree with this thing; it doesn’t make the point, but it takes away the sympathy even if your cause may seem to be correct… Maybe we need a campaign as a country to say you can’t burn a library because you want a clinic. It’s counter-productive,” he said.

Nzimande made a plea to management of universities and student representatives to engage each other on matters facing the institutions.

He was addressing the media in Durban after meeting the student representatives and management of Durban University of Technology (DUT).

The university suspended its academic programme and evicted students from its residences last week, following violent protests.

The protests were mainly over insufficient funding from the National Financial Aid Scheme. Other grievances included a lack of student accommodation.

DUT Vice-Chancellor Professor Ahmed Bawa said the varsity would only reopen once management was satisfied the situation had stabilised.

“Our chief task now is to try to understand how to create conditions of peace and safety on campus and to re-establish conditions conducive to teaching and learning. The moment we achieve that, we’ll be back.”

Bawa said he was hoping that the institution could reopen this week.

He warned that a delay by about five or six days could place the semester in jeopardy.

Ayanda Ngidi, the president of the SRC at DUT, warned that the university should not reopen until all the students’ demands were met.

Students would continue with mass action should it reopen without their grievances having been addressed, he said.

Nzimande said by visiting DUT he was not taking over from management – whose responsibility it was to resolve the problems the institution was facing – but hoped his visit would contribute towards resolving the issues.

Asked if he was satisfied with the manner in which universities had reacted to the strikes, Nzimande said he was, but there were a few exceptions. He declined to elaborate, saying: “I am not here to name and shame.”

In some institutions problems arose because they did not have enough capacity to manage their student aid allocations, he said.

“If you want me to come closer to naming and shaming, come closer to looking at historically disadvantaged institutions… There are one and two instances where you get a sense management does not want to listen. DUT, I get a sense, is not one of those.”

He said he had come to find out what the problems were and to engage with all the stakeholders, but stressed that it was a coincidence that the institution had closed when he had already decided he was going to visit it.

“But also why I chose DUT is because this thing has become a ritual. Each year must start in a particular way; there must be demonstrations, there must be closure of the university before the year starts.”

Addressing the student funding, Nzimande said the money was not enough to fund every deserving student, but enough to fund the majority.

“We are still unable to pay for each and every student, we are not yet there. But that must not detract from the fact that we have put in a lot of money that must benefit a lot of students.”

bheki.mbanjwa@inl.co.za

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