Students at Cape Peninsula University of Technology (CPUT) were embroiled in violent racial clashes on Thursday, leaving some with head wounds. Lectures were halted and the university was in lockdown while vehicles were prevented from entering or leaving. The clash erupted between two groups of students, one black the other white, after about 300 protesting students blockaded both main gates of the university and stopped vehicles from passing through. During the clash, some students were injured when bricks and stones were hurled at them. Picture Courtney Africa

Cape Town - Student leaders at the Cape Peninsula University of Technology (CPUT) have initiated “a state of emergency” and called for classes to be cancelled after a violent clash at the Bellville campus’s gates on Thursday.

The deputy president of the Student Representative Council (SRC) has warned that protests will continue, which have so far seen bricks being thrown, cars damaged and students injured, until demands for “fairer policies on registration fees” were agreed to by management.

CPUT officials said they would respond in due course. L ecturers and students were were prevented from leaving on Thursday afternoon by another group of students milling around the Bellville campus’s front entrance. SRC deputy president Vuyani Moerane said the 300 students at the gates had arrived with the organisation’s leaders to discuss their memorandum with Vice-Chancellor Prins Nevhutalu.

As the executive members sat down with the university’s management, the students had gone to sit in the shade at the entrance.

Staff at CPUT said it was 4pm and most lecturers and students were leaving campus. When they reached the gates, the waiting students caused traffic to grind to a halt.

Moerane said a few students leaving the Department of Mechanical Engineering became frustrated.

Staff said there were arguments as the students at the gate refused to budge.

And then a fight broke out.

Moerane said: “(Our students) started retaliating, throwing bricks and stones at the people trying to leave.” Car windows were smashed and a group of white students were injured, suffering from head wounds caused by the heavy projectiles.

“This is not what we wanted, this is not how we encourage our students to behave,” said Moerane. He added that the students had been provoked by security guards.

But witnesses said the students at the gates had already armed themselves with bricks and stones before security had even intervened.

Public order police were called in to disperse the angry crowd with stun grenades.

At the time of going to print, police could not confirm if any arrests had been made.

The violent clash was the latest chapter in a long-running feud between students and the university’s management over its registration fees. Protests began last week and escalated on Monday, when two students were arrested after stoning buildings on the Bellville campus.

Moerane said they had become frustrated after the vice-chancellor repeatedly snubbed the SRC’s leadership’s requests to sit down and discuss their memorandum.

The SRC is calling for fairer “registration policies” accusing the university of excluding students who had rung up debt during their studies and were now unable to complete their degrees. At the time of going to print, the university’s spokesman Thami Nkwanyane had not yet responded to these allegations.

Moerane said he is now calling on all students to stay away from classes until the SRC’s issues have been resolved. “This is a state of emergency.”

This is not the first time that protests have brought the university to a standstill. In 2011 protesting students disrupted lectures and exams calling for the then Vice Chancellor’s resignation. Just a year later students clashed with security guards over registration fees.

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Cape Argus