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Case against 12 protesting UKZN students withdrawn

Published Apr 13, 2021

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A public violence case against 12 University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN) students was withdrawn at the Pinetown Magistrates Court on Tuesday.

The 12 students were arrested on February 24, 2021, and first appeared in court the next day.

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In a court document, dated April 1, 2021, which the students provided to The Mercury, the Pinetown senior prosecutor said a decision had been taken to withdraw the case following representations made on March 12 and based on the evidence in the docket of how the offence was committed.

UKZN Student Representative Council (SRC) secretary-general Philani Mncwabe said the students were unlawfully arrested for embarking on a peaceful hunger strike outside the front gate of the university’s Westville campus.

He said it was unclear why they were arrested and questioned whether the arrest was a bullying tactic by the university or the state.

Mncwabe said the SRC would be meeting with UKZN’s vice-chancellor to discuss unresolved issues regarding registration and the National Students Financial Aid Scheme which were causing a “crisis” across the country.

“There’s no clear outcome for the future of the affected students.”

The main unresolved issues included a 100% return of all registered students to their residences, 50% waiver of the requirement to honour previous repayment commitments, reversal of 33% of residence fees charged for periods when they were not occupied and the implementation of a blended approach for registration, especially for first-time students among others.

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“It just shows that the university or the state was using bullying tactics on students who were protesting and calling for what’s right. The SRC is on the ground, they see what’s happening. If vice-chancellors listened to the SRC’s there would be no protests,” said Mncwabe.

UKZN’s acting executive director of corporate relations, Normah Zondo, said the university was aware of the decision taken by court to withdraw the charge of public violence against the students due to insufficient evidence.

Zondo said the students were arrested by SAPS when they blocked the public’s access to the university.

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She said the university will study the decision and “apply its mind to the contents before making any comment”.

The South African Students Congress (Sasco) called for students to show their support for the accused, the majority of whom were members of the university’s SRC by gathering outside the court.

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Students danced and sang songs outside the court. The crowd dispersed minutes later following the ruling.

The National Prosecuting Authority(NPA) had not responded to a request for comment at the time of publishing.

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