Pretoria - Security measures intensified at city universities as protests by outsourced general workers continued on Monday.
The University of Pretoria remains closed until further notice and has secured a second interdict restricting protests from 50m to 150m from any of its entrances.
Registration went ahead at the Unisa’s Sunnyside campus under the watchful eye of police and security guards.
Universities in the province have called on political and civil society leaders to step in and ensure that the academic year goes ahead without further glitches.
At a briefing in Auckland Park, Joburg, on Monday, management of the University of South Africa (Unisa), the University of Johannesburg (UJ), Tshwane University of Technology (TUT), University of Pretoria, Wits University and the Sefako Makgatho Health Sciences University said they were worried that if the fee protests did not stop, the academic year would be severely affected.
Last week, students across the country restarted fee protests, demanding that the government implement free education in higher education.
Unisa, the University of Pretoria and Wits in particular were also hit by protests by outsourced workers.
On Monday Wits vice-chancellor Adam Habib said that while the issue of free education needed to be discussed, it was not feasible to implement it immediately.
He warned of dire consequences if students persisted with their protests. “For now, our system is based on fees. If suddenly we would go to no fees the entire system will collapse. Universities will close down within months and we will reinforce the very same inequalities of our society,” he said.
“We don’t want to destroy the one higher education system on this continent that is actually working. We have to be mindful that if we are engaged in activism it has to be thoughtful activism,” he said.
Habib admitted that one of the biggest hurdles in solving the fee protests was the division among student leaders.
“It is in our long-term benefit that student leaders find a way to determine a leadership that has a broad integrity that has support of the broader student body,” he said.
Habib sought to justify why institutions were forced to get court interdicts and deploy extra security guards on their campuses to protect their students and property.
His view was backed by UJ vice-chancellor Ihron Rensburg.
“There are small groups among the protesters that remain determined to shut down institutions through violent measures.”
“We have seen extensive damage in the case of TUT, where an examination hall was gutted,” he said.
“Some institutions spend between R1.5 million and R2m in extra security. It’s not sustainable. It cannot happen.
“If we were simply to withdraw the additional security and cancel court orders, we will leave our institutions vulnerable to violence. If we can stop this expensive cost of additional security tomorrow we would do it but that is subject to these protests being peaceful.”
UP spokeswoman Anna-Retha Bouwer said that while the campus remained closed, students were being encouraged to register online.
Unisa said its campuses, which had been closed to safeguard lives and property, had been reopened. However, it still has an interdict restricting protests to 50m from its entrances.
By late Monday morning, a crowd led by the EFF Student Command marched to the edge of the Unisa campus in Pretoria where they were met by armed police.
A protester announced their intentions through a megaphone: “The management of the university must address the needs of the workers and students.”
“All we are requesting is that there must be insourcing at this university. Students and workers must unite.”
After the short speech, a riot van drove towards the protesters, making them disperse, after which they did not reassemble.
The protests led to increased security at the registration hall, with students queueing outside for hours attempting to register.
On reaching the turnstiles, only a handful was allowed entry at a time. While police managed the crowds outside using pepper spray to force some students back at one point, they were searched once inside.
South African Student Congress (Sasco) branch secretary Kenneth Tsikeli said students who had not been registered were frustrated. “But we are here to ensure they are all assisted.”
Nguela Mirabeau, who registered for his Masters in Electrical Engineering, arrived at 7am and only left the registration hall at 2pm. “I am relieved,” he said. “I came to register last week and it was not possible.”
According to Tsikeli, while students had theoretically been able to register since January 4, this was only the third day they had been able to successfully do so in person.
Unisa spokesman Martin Ramotshela confirmed that registration would continue as planned until the end of the month.
He added that students were able to register online and could phone the university should they encounter problems.
Ramotshela said police were present to ensure the interdict against the protesters was enforced. The combination of security services and Sasco members searching students was due to the abnormal situation, he stated.
At Tshwane University of Technology, registration commenced as scheduled. Spokeswoman Willa de Ruyter said sufficient security was in place to ensure the safety of everyone.
“Online registration is there for anyone who wishes to avoid the queues,” she said.
De Ruyter said the only sign of protesters at the university was “an incident at the Arcadia campus, which was very quickly resolved” by the police.