File picture: Independent Media

Pietermaritzburg - Three University of KwaZulu-Natal Pietermaritzburg campus students struggled to hold back the tears as they were denied bail at the city’s magistrate’s court on Monday.

Xabiso Mantanga, 21, Nduduzo Msibande, 20, and Sicelo Qwabe, 21, were denied bail by Magistrate M Boikhutso on the grounds that the State’s case against them was very strong and they had indeed involved themselves in violent protests resulting in injury to police officers and private security guards, and damage to university property.

Their co-accused, Thembela Ngxokile, 28, and Yonga Makhaula, 20, were granted R1 000 bail, because it was unclear whether they were just in the wrong place at the wrong time.

The five students were arrested on October 1 and faced charges of public violence, malicious damage to property, possession of dangerous weapons, common assault of police officers and security guards, and contempt of a high court order obtained by the university interdicting students from protest action.

In his affidavit opposing bail, Captain Khethukuthula Ngcobo, from the Alexandra police station, alleged the students in this case were part of a minority responsible for the incitement of violence, damage to property, intimidation and disruption of lectures, and were resolved to shut down the institution in pursuit of their cause.

Ngcobo said students illegally gathered and attacked security guards protecting an exam hall on the main campus.

After this unrest, security guards were on high alert and were monitoring the safety of non-protesting students at the student union building when a group of 15 male students attacked security and started throwing bottles, stones and broken roof tiles at guards, who called SAPS for backup.

The guards chased the group into the William O’Brien residence, where the students were blocked by the SAPS in the passage.

“Others managed to escape into other parts of the building but at all times the accused were kept in sight, were arrested, and have been identified as the five students before court,” Ngcobo said.

The three students who were denied bail live off campus, while the two granted bail live at the William O’Brien residence.

The magistrate said this created doubt that they were directly involved in the violence.

“They could have just found themselves in the passage in which the intended protesters were trapped,” she said. But the magistrate said in respect of the other three students, the state had successfully proved they were violent and had shown disrespect towards police officers and the law.

“These students’ identities cannot be disputed. They were spotted among a group of students who were chased into a building by police and security guards.

“At all times they were trapped and were arrested at the scene,” the magistrate said, referring to the incidents of sporadic violence and damage to property on the university campus as disturbing.

In a separate case, three students arrested after an incident on September 30 were granted R1000 bail.

Spetho Mazibuko, 20, Blessing Mtshali, 20, and Sanele Sibiya, 24, are charged with public violence, possession of dangerous weapons (being stones, broken bottles and broken roof tiles), malicious damage to property, assault of police officers and MI7 security guards and the contravention of a High Court order preventing students from illegal gatherings and damaging university property.

The magistrate, Boikhutso, found the state had not provided sufficient evidence as to what led to the student arrests, or what role they had played in the alleged violence.

The magistrate said the State did not have a strong case against the students and found it was not in the interests of justice to keep them detained.

All students released on bail will have to adhere to strict conditions, including that they vacate the university residences and relocate to alternative addresses for the duration of their trial.

It has since come to light that several of the students released on bail will relocate to the homes of lecturers at the university, which has come out in support of the arrested students and are willing to assist them.

The students are forbidden from being seen on campus, except to attend lectures and write exams, and have been prohibited from participating in any protest that is violent in nature.

Both cases have been adjourned to late next month.