Call for talks to end KZN university violence
The Department of Higher Education and Training has ordered disgruntled students and management of the troubled University of KwaZulu-Natal to negotiate an end to a week of violent protests.
“No party must withdraw until a solution is found. It is in the best interests of the management as it is for the students that priority is given to the normalisation of the academic process,” department spokesman Khaye Nkwanyana said at the weekend.
“At no point can the strike action resolve issues. A premium must be placed on the talks.”
The academic programme at UKZN was to have resumed today
after last week’s violence led to a decision to shut the university for two days.
Hundreds of students at the Howard College, Edgewood and Westville campuses embarked on protests over next year’s registration and fee increases, which were rumoured to be steep.
However, university spokesman, Lesiba Seshoka, has denied this, saying the proposal had been a gradual fee increase of 10 percent a year over two to three years. This was to be understood within the context of the current student debt, which now exceeded R800 million, said Seshoka.
He said the Westville campus had been affected the most, and was not accessible to staff and students because of the road barricades and stone throwing.
Protest action had continued despite a high court order prohibiting unlawful protests, disruptive gatherings, demonstrations, mass action, intimidation or any violent act towards persons or property at the entrance and premises.
The violence intensified at the Westville campus on Thursday, leaving two people injured.
One was a student and the other, a police officer who, according to police spokesman Captain Thulani Zwane, was hit by a stone thown by protesting students.
Water cannons, rubber bullets and teargas were used after a group of students threw stones at windows and cars. Many of the students were wearing masks and balaclavas.
Said Nkwanyana: “The ministry condemns in the strongest terms the criminal acts of damaging the university property. No amount of anger and frustration can justify the act that vandalises public property that belongs to future generations of students.”
The ANC’s KZN secretary, Sihle Zikalala also expressed concern, saying, “We are worried that the stand-off happens at a very critical time when students should be sharpening their readiness for the final examinations scheduled to take place in two months”.
Noting the “constitutional right for every citizen to express their concerns freely”, Zikalala said the lawlessness could not be condoned.
“Any violent conduct to highlight grievances is unacceptable and uncalled for.”
Zikalala called on the university to ensure that students’ concerns receive “honest and urgent attention”.
“As we continue to improve access to tertiary education, we cannot afford to have frequent disruptions at our institutions of higher learning,” Zikalala said.