Cape Town - Police arrested 27 Cape Peninsula University of Technology (CPUT) students on Friday after they allegedly smashed windows and set fire to campus buildings during a violent protest.
Students headed to the main administration building in Bellville on Friday morning, demanding their tuition fees and debt be scrapped.
The campus was then swamped by heavily armed police officers who stormed into residences and arrested students.
Constable Noloyiso Rwexana said the students were later released and would appear in court on charges of public violence.
By late on Friday, Rwexana could not confirm the details of the court appearance.
She said a male student had been arrested at the CPUT campus in Wellington for “arson and malicious damage to property”.
“We will continue to monitor the situation,” said Rwexana.
CPUT authorities said they could not understand what had sparked the protest in light of the fact that student debt totalling R111 million had already been written off this week.
Students vandalised the administration building, burning rubbish in front of its entrance and smashing its glass doors and large windows.
Police pursued and arrested the 27.
They also fired stun grenades at small crowds of students chanting slogans and gathering to watch the tense stand-off unfold.
One student, Zimkita Songqengqe, said the protest started at 7.30am on Friday.
“We decided to protest again because we are unable to pay our fees. We don’t have financial aid and some of us don’t even have parents,” she said.
Philiswa Dingiswayo, another student, said her farmworker parents earned R75 a day and could not afford to pay her fees.
“I don’t understand why the police are shooting us and going into our residences.
“Some innocent students have been arrested today. One guy was just walking. He didn’t do anything but he was arrested.”
Some students responded aggressively towards the police and journalists, throwing stones and swearing at them.
A television journalist was harassed and his video camera taken from him.
“One student had a knife and the others had stones. They took my camera and ran away with it,” he said.
When the journalist managed to get his camera back from campus security he found his memory cards had been removed, apparently to ensure that footage of the morning’s vandalism could not be used to identify any students.
Another journalist said: “Students wouldn’t let the media cover their protest this morning. When I lifted my phone or camera they went berserk.”
Some students also tried to prevent Weekend Argus from interviewing other students. One protester stoned the journalist and another, after being arrested, angrily told the journalist to “f**k off”.
Students said those organising the protests were also threatening them in their rooms, forcing them to join in.
“At 6am they knock on your doors to join the protest. If you don’t join they flood our rooms so that we have to get out. They also use a fire extinguisher to get us out of our rooms,” said one student.
CPUT vice chancellor Prins Nevhutalu announced on the university’s website on Friday that all activities had been “suspended”.
CPUT spokeswoman Lauren Kansley said the debt of “over 5 000 students was written off, totalling R111 million” this week.
“This is of students who applied for financial aid for 2012, 2013 and 2014, but didn’t receive help.”
She said protesting students had also set alight the CPUT Bellville security hub on Friday.
“We are monitoring the situation closely. The majority of students want to continue with exams, which have been called off for now.”
Meanwhile, the CPUT branch of the National Tertiary Education Union on Friday condemned “all forms of violence on CPUT campuses”.
General secretary Grant Abbott said a “small faction of students seem intent on inciting violence and confrontation instead of working together with university authorities and unions”.