Cape Town – The Ministry of Higher Education on Thursday added its voice to growing condemnation of recent protest action at the University of the Western Cape (UWC) in Bellville near Cape Town.
“The Ministry condemns in strongest terms the disruptions of examinations at UWC yesterday by a group of students calling themselves #FeesMustFall movement,” said Ministry spokesperson Khaye Nkwanyana.
On Wednesday, students began protesting after it was alleged a mail had been sent by the chairperson of the university council requesting an interdict against protesting students. Chaos soon broke out on campus with windows being broken, burning barricades erected, and students allegedly attacking peers who had elected to write exams.
“It is regrettable that students writing their examinations had to be disrupted in the manner that it occurred,” said Nkwanyana. “This disruption undermines positive strides between University and students after the recent agreement arising out of negotiations where students scored a lot of victories.”
On Wednesday, Public Order Policing were called in and remained throughout the night, using teargas, stun grenades and rubber bullets to disperse students.
Nkwanyana said that in cases where protests became violent, as was the case at UWC, and criminal, “management must involve police and act decisively”.
“We continue to affirm the right of students to protest if they so wish, but that right is accompanied by a responsibility not to violate other people’s right and damage to property,” said Nkwanyana.
The Democratic Alliance (DA), the African National Congress in the Western Cape, and the university itself also condemned the violence.
“The ANC in the Western Cape condemns the acts of violence at UWC in the strongest possible terms,” said the party’s provincial spokesperson Faiez Jacobs.
The DA’s interim youth leader Yusuf Cassim: “The DA does not support violence of any form and violent students must desist from such activity.”
Student protestors involved in the chaos were arrested on Wednesday and appeared in the Bellville District Court on Thursday. Charges faced included public violence, arson, malicious damage to property, violating a court interdict, and – for five of them – assault with intent to inflict grievous bodily harm. All were released on R3,000 bail and banned from entering the campus without a police escort.
Meanwhile, a march has been planned to UWC on Friday by the joint Progressive Youth Alliance “calling for exams to be written under a peaceful environment”.