Fires burn near the university residences, while (right) police keep a wary eye on the students. Photo: Sibusiso Ndlovu
Fires burn near the university residences, while (right) police keep a wary eye on the students. Photo: Sibusiso Ndlovu

Campus ablaze after rampage

By CHRIS NDALISO Time of article published Sep 5, 2014

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Durban - The Higher Education and Training Ministry has expressed concern over the student riots at the University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN) that appear to have been sparked by rumours of a proposed steep hike in registration fees.

University authorities on Thursday decided to shut the institution until Monday after days of violent protests. But on Thursday afternoon there was still a police presence on the troubled Westville campus after violence flared in the morning.

Police spokesman Captain Thulani Zwane said an officer and a security guard were slightly injured when they were hit by bricks that were thrown at them.

Zwane said rubber bullets and water cannons were used to disperse the rioters, and police were monitoring the situation.

Staff members, students residing off campus and vehicles were earlier barred from accessing the campus by stone-throwing protesters.

University Road was strewn with bricks, garbage and burning appliances, some of which looked like refrigerators.

There were also violent protests at UKZN’s Howard, Edgewood and Pietermaritzburg campuses.

“We heard that the university was in flames and that students were vandalising. We have since written to the university requesting an explanation regarding the registration fee increase,” ministry spokesman Khaye Nkwanyana said on Thursday.

“If this is just a proposal, then the students are out of line to embark on a premature strike. A strike is a last resort, when all the avenues to resolve a dispute have been exhausted,” he said.

Nkwanyana, who condemned the disruption of academic programmes and the vandalism of the institution's property, said the ministry was expecting a response from the university by Friday.

UKZN spokesman Lesiba Seshoka said the university’s executive management committee had deliberated on the situation on Thursday morning and taken a decision to suspend the academic programme on all campuses until Monday.

“The university regrets the inconvenience caused and apologises to all students whose commitments have been interrupted by the unfortunate activities of a handful of disruptive elements

.”

Seshoka said the police and the university’s management services were monitoring the situation and that discussions with student representatives were continuing.

The Daily News reported last week that rumours about the 2015 registration fee hike had fuelled the riots.

At the time, university registrar Convy Baloyi said about 200 students had marched through the campus illegally with the student representative council (SRC).

He denied that registration fees would shoot up to R9 000, as had been rumoured.

SRC president Sthabiso Mthethwa said at the time

that there had been a proposal from the chief financial officer to increase the registration fee to R6 000.

“We rejected that. Then they said R4 500 and we still rejected that. Registration remains at R2 750. We are not going to allow any fee increments,” he had said.

Seshoka said on Thursday the issue of registration fee increases had not been communicated to the students and their representatives because it was still a proposal that was being discussed at university council level.

He also attributed the riots to next month’s SRC elections. “Everyone is looking at this as a way of garnering votes. We never said there would be a fees increase. Those behind the riots and the rumours are opportunists who will use the fees issue to their advantage,” he said.

Seshoka said the situation had “cooled down” by on Thursday afternoon.

Asked about the damage to the university property, he said: “Once we have viewed our surveillance cameras, whoever is identified as damaging the university property will be dealt with harshly. Die poppe sal dans (the puppets will dance) because they will be sent to jail and expelled from the university.”

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