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The sounds of screaming students and rubber bullets being discharged echoed through the University of KwaZulu-Natal’s Westville campus as students clashed with police on Wednesday.
The chaos resulted in scores of students being injured and in need of treatment - after police fired rubber bullets and threw tear gas at them - and in the disruption of lectures.
On Thursday, UKZN would finalise an interim interdict preventing the students from striking on any of the university’s five campuses.
The campus resembled a battlefield as police in riot gear maintained a tight grip on rioting students. Protesting students barricaded two of the three entrances to the campus, hurling rocks and glass bottles at the police, and torching fridges.
Students confined to their residences watched the action unfold through their windows. Vehicles seeking entry to the university were turned back by security personnel.
“We had to go through the bush because police shot at us (while we were walking on the road),” said student Sindisiwe Goqa.
“There are stones being hurled at police on this side and rubber bullets being shot at students on that side. It’s hectic. It’s a good thing that security is insisting that people leave their cars at the gate because once you get in, you can’t get out,” she said.
Police Lieutenant-Colonel Vincent Mdunge said eight students were injured by rubber bullets and stones thrown by protesters.
Police arrested and charged 49 students with public violence. Nine police vans were damaged.
“Students damaged police cars and university property. Public-order police were called in as reinforcements. We were forced to use rubber bullets. We will deploy officers (at the campus) until the situation has normalised,” said Mdunge.
Financial aid is at the centre of the unrest. Central students’ representative council general secretary Thulisa Ndlela said UKZN had decided to discontinue the “gap loan” scheme, affecting more than 2 000 students who relied on it.
UKZN spokeswoman Nomonde Mbadi said money from the National Student Financial Aid Scheme was not sufficient to meet the demand and UKZN had supplemented these funds for several years. She said UKZN had committed R18.6 million to augment the financial aid scheme this year, bringing its total funding for student loans to R300m. Included in this were “gap loans” of approximately R125m, which helped students who received partial financial packages from the financial aid scheme.
“These debts are growing and are now affecting the financial standing of the university, to the extent that the financial aid scheme has been unsuccessful in recovering these loans timeously on behalf of the university,” said Mbadi.
A Mercury journalist and photographer were shot at by two policemen while making their way into the campus, and were barred by officers from taking pictures. The Mercury also saw about five policemen firing rubber bullets at students standing outside a residence.
The police also fired on students at the Oval Residence, shooting and injuring scores, with two men being shot and wounded in their genitals.
At Addington Hospital’s trauma unit last night, injured students lay in beds and several waited in an adjoining room to be treated. Policemen hovered in the corridors, waiting to arrest the students. - The Mercury