Violent student protests leave an expensive trail of destruction
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Cape Town - Violent student protests at tertiary institutions have left a trail of destruction costing millions of rands, with buildings vandalised and items stolen.
Counting the cost in the aftermath of the protests, Higher Education, Science and Innovation Minister Blade Nzimande said he was deeply concerned about the recent incidents of vandalism of property at educational institutions, with the total cost of the repairs amounting to more than R32 million.
Among the most vandalised institutions were the Cape Peninsula University of Technology (CPUT) and the University of the Western Cape (UWC).
Nzimande said CPUT recently reported two cases, mainly related to the vandalism of fire extinguishers and fire hoses, with the cost of repairs amounting to R250 000.
He said there were also reported cases of damage from arson, which involved the burning of a pre-fab structure used as classrooms.
“The repair costs have amounted to R2 690 000, with R1.2m still to be used for repairs,” said Nzimande
He said UWC reported two cases of vandalism and theft that cost the university R166 007 to repair.
He said he was convinced that all progressive stakeholder organisations would agree “that criminal and violent acts have no legitimacy in genuine political protests around demands for greater equality in post-school education and training”.
Nzimande called on university vice-chancellors to tighten safety and security measures to prevent destruction and to protect life and limb.
“The destruction of property is a criminal offence, and all those engaging in such acts must be apprehended by law enforcement agencies and face the full might of the law,” said Nzimande.
SA Students Congress spokesperson Luvuyo Barnes said the organisation has consistently denounced any acts of violence and vandalism of public property during protests.
However, Barnes said the alleged remarks by Nzimande were yet again a deflection of the real issues and an attempt to play the victim as opposed to providing leadership and solutions for higher education.
CPUT students’ representative council deputy president Sihle Ngxabi said students were not criminals.
“As student leaders, we are pro students, and we condemn any criminal acts in our protests because they seek to distort our objectives. We think private security companies play a big role in vandalism because they make money during protests,” he said.
UWC spokesperson Gasant Abarder said the amount calculated for the university was from 2020.
CPUT spokesperson Lauren Kansley said that, as the guardians of about R10.2 billion in institutional assets, CPUT management understood its responsibility to protect those assets for future generations.
Kansley said protest actions have resulted in resources that could have been used to upgrade facilities for existing and future students being needlessly funnelled into fixing damaged buildings and assets.
She said some of the steps CPUT has taken to guard against future protest action were a focus on security upgrades, which included appointing a new head of campus protection, the campus-wide roll-out of CCTV cameras, and the installation of ClearVu fencing around at-risk campuses.
“Regular engagements with student leadership structures have also meant that our management remains aware of pressing student concerns and are able to respond accordingly before issues escalate,” said Kansley.
The chairperson of Parliament’s select committee on education, technology, sports, arts and culture, Elleck Nchabeleng, said the committee has condemned all forms of vandalism on university campuses, and they also condemned the provocation of law enforcement officers, and the use of force against protesting students.