Durban - The assault of an emeritus professor during a student protest at the University of KwaZulu-Natal on Wednesday has sparked national outrage, with a R10 000 reward offered for the arrest of the culprit.
The attack on maths Professor Erwin Brüning, 77, a German national, was captured on video filmed discreetly outside P block residence at the Westville campus.
The incident has caused fear among university staff members who believe that their safety can no longer be guaranteed. According to the university,
Professor Brüning sustained a slight injury to his hand, and had been provided with counselling.
Political commentator and UKZN alumnus Kiru Naidoo, who offered the R10000 reward, said a torrent of leads had been provided to identify the student.
He said viewing the video, he was outraged and appalled, but disappointed that there was no similar reaction from the UKZN management.
“To see a senior person bullied and beaten like that on the university premises is shocking. In the past, university academics would have come out in support of one of their colleagues. It is unbelievable that there is such a deadly silence from the university. I am even more shocked that there is such an invisible university leadership,” said Naidoo.
He said it seemed that both university management and student leadership were looking to destroy the university’s reputation.
“We can’t have that, this university is a national asset and whether we are alumni or citizens, we have an interest in making sure that this university thrives.”
Naidoo said he did not want his qualification to be rendered worthless due to irresponsible people bringing the name of the university into disrepute.
A UKZN student who witnessed the assault said the lecturer had driven to an alternative entrance because the main entrance was blocked.
However, this was also blocked.
“He parked his car and jumped out, and started to remove the washing machines that had been used to block the road. The students were hurling insults at him, and he responded. One student went to him and told him to leave and there was an exchange of words that resulted in a student kicking him.”
George Devenish, an emeritus professor at UKZN, said he was saddened by the latest violence. He recalled an incident in 2016 when Howard College Law Library was set alight by disgruntled students.
“I was working in that library and had been for many years. When I walked in after it was damaged and saw the valuable books that were destroyed by the fire, I wept. I was heartbroken,” he said.
He condemned the violence against university staff, saying the culprits must be brought to book.
“There is just a small group of people who are acting violently and holding the whole university to ransom. Negotiation is the only thing that is going to bring an end to this, not violence. I love UKZN and it is an asset, not only to KZN but the entire country.”
Devenish also defended vice-
chancellor Professor Nana Poku, saying he was doing everything in his power to resolve the issues.
University of KwaZulu-Natal Staff Union deputy chairperson Mandla
Mdhluli said they were disturbed at what had happened to the professor.
Mdhluli called for law enforcement to act swiftly in arresting the culprits to send a clear message that crime would not be tolerated.
Earlier this week, the union, together with their members, protested at Westville campus calling for safety measures inside campuses to be beefed up.
“Such violence on the university premises should not be tolerated. This is just anarchy, and the safety of the staff remains a huge concern. How could such a thing happen and no one is coming to assist the professor? He was not even provoking anyone, and such abuse and lack of respect for staff from our children cannot be accepted.
“Staff and other students are also scared now. The safety of the staff needs to be ensured,” he said.
In a statement yesterday, UKZN said it abhorred and strongly condemned the “wanton” acts of violence, intimidation, and destruction of property by groups of students on their campuses.
The university confirmed that this week valuable property had been set alight, and that students and staff were intimidated at lecture venues.
“We implore the perpetrators of these crimes to stop. Violence is not the solution to the challenges we are facing. This behaviour is only making matters worse.
“University management genuinely cares for financially disadvantaged students and is making every effort to help clear historic debt to enable affected students to register,” said UKZN.
The university said they were working on various fund-raising initiatives and were continuously in talks with the student leadership and other stakeholders.