Arrest them all - education department
Durban - The Higher Education Department says it is “disturbed” by the violent protests which erupted at the University of KwaZulu-Natal on Sunday night and Monday, and wants the perpetrators arrested.
The violence saw the Westville campus forced to shut its gates.
At least two cars and the building which houses the office of vice-chancellor Albert van Jaarsveld were torched.
The protest forced UKZN to suspend classes on Monday, and for Tuesday, in the hope that calm would be restored by Wednesday.
While the SA Students Congress (Sasco) claimed responsibility for leading the protests, it said it did not condone the destruction of property, and the students responsible should be arrested.
Sasco said the protests – which also occurred at UKZN’s Edgewood campus last week – were over financial aid and the need for new student accommodation.
Higher Education Department spokesman Khaye Nkwanyana said while the aggrieved students might have valid reasons for protesting, there could be no justification for the level of violence perpetrated.
“These are criminal acts and law enforcement agencies must be invited to arrest the culprits – all of them.
“That being the case, we encourage the new vice-chancellor to engage with student leadership and seek mutual solutions to the matters that are the causal effect of this strike action.
“The department encourages management to not shy away from engaging student bodies such as the student representative council. Matters must not be allowed to reach boiling point,” Nkwanyana said.
However, UKZN spokesman Lesiba Seshoka said on Monday that the students had not communicated their unhappiness to the university’s leadership.
“The university regrets the inconvenience caused and apologises to all students whose commitments have been interrupted. The university is committed to engaging with students to understand the causes of the unrest and address them. At the moment such issues have not yet been brought to our attention,” Seshoka said. “Every effort will be made to recover lost time and academic activities will be rescheduled.”
Yvonne Phosa, the chairwoman of the National Assembly’s portfolio committee on higher education, said one way to prevent the ugly scenes which had played out at UKZN was the department’s plan for South Africa’s student leaders to be taught conflict management and resolution.
“We condemn in the strongest possible terms the violent protests that have erupted at UKZN,” Phosa said.
“We encourage the students to utilise the mechanisms in place at the university to raise their concerns.
“We also urge the university to ensure that they engage with students to hear their grievances and to ensure feedback is given to students on these.”
Sasco KZN secretary Pinda Mofokeng said the institution wanted students to attain a 70% pass for their modules to qualify for financial aid, but that the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (Nsfas) only required a 50% pass.
Mofokeng said the other primary grievance was that the university had not delivered on a promise to build a new residence.
Mofokeng said these issues could easily be resolved but that the management of UKZN “did not listen”.
“Sasco is not a criminal organisation. Only through dialogue can we find a lasting solution. (But) students get agitated when management refuses to speak to them.”
UKZN’s central SRC president, Dithobe Mosana, condemned the destruction of property, but argued that students were rightly aggrieved over the proposed new NSFAS qualification criteria, and the move by UKZN to review its Registration Appeals Committee policy.
“Students should perform (well) academically, but in this instance UKZN would be acting outside of the parameters set by NSFAS, and government.”
The appeals committee was created to help students by allowing them to pay their fees over a two-year period.
However, UKZN had found that the students to whom that arrangement had been extended had not paid more than 10% of their fees over the two-year period.
KZN police spokesman Colonel Jay Naicker said malicious damage to property and public violence was being investigated, but no arrests had been made.