Durban - A women's residence at the Mangosuthu University of Technology in Durban was set alight in the early hours of Thursday morning, resulting in 15 students being treated for smoke inhalation.
MUT dean of students Thami Mchunu told reporters on Thursday a case of arson had been opened with police.
The fire was started shortly after 1am and students and university security personnel extinguished it.
Vice chancellor and principal Prof Mashupye Kgaphola said at the same press conference the damage was estimated to be R90,000.
The university has been plagued by student protests this week. A group of students calling themselves the Progressive Youth Alliance have demanded that all students be registered, irrespective of how much they owe the university in outstanding fees.
However, the university has insisted that students who received funding from the National Student Financial Aid Scheme and were R10,000 or more in arrears would only be registered if they entered into negotiations to settle their outstanding debt.
Cash paying students who owed more than R5000 were also required to enter into negotiations with the university.
On Thursday, Mchunu said: “When we got there (the residence), everything was burnt. They (the students in the residence) were shocked. There was panic.”
The fire had been started in a passageway of the residence, which houses some 200 students.
Kgaphola said five students had been identified as the ringleaders of the protest and suspended.
Registration deadlines had been extended to Friday to allow students to enter into negotiations with the university.
He said talks with about 50 students could not be concluded because their academic results were not good enough for them to receive further funding.
The burning of the residence was an attempt to “undermine the very needs of students that we are being called upon to address”.
“It shatters my mind,” he said of the arson.
While final figures had yet to be determined, damage during the protests was estimated at R250 000.
He urged the community and the general student body to condemn the violence at the university.
“You can't have a student that can't abide by the rules. We can't offer free education at MUT. We have neither the capacity nor the mandate,” said Kgaphola.
One student was arrested on Tuesday, and two on Monday.
On Monday the university secured an interdict banning students from protesting, but this was ignored on Tuesday.
The university, which has a student population of about 10 000 has a student debt of almost R181 million.