Student protests turn violent

Published Jan 17, 2012


Students and security guards at the Cape Peninsula University of Technology’s city campus clashed on Tuesday as a protest about registration fees turned violent.

Students were pepper-sprayed and one collapsed after inhaling it. She was rushed to hospital and her condition was not known at the time of going to press.

The trouble started at about 10am when about 35 students affiliated to the SA Students’ Congress (Sasco), gathered at the campus to protest against the R5 000 registration fee.

Security was called in to disperse the group. The students refused to budge and the security guards, who numbered about 10, pepper-sprayed them.

A student retaliated by rugby-tackling a security guard. Other security guards came to their colleague’s aid and pepper-sprayed the student in the face.

The guards also used a stun gun on the student, who fled when the rest of the students dispersed.

A friend of the student who was rushed to the campus clinic and later taken to Somerset Hospital after inhaling pepper spray, said the girl had come from Worcester to register.

The friend refused to be named.

By the time police arrived at the campus, the students had dispersed and all was calm.

While chaotic scenes unfolded at CPUT, Sasco was assuring journalists during a press conference that its members were told not to use violence or damage property as part of the strike.

Sasco held the briefing at the ANC’s offices in the city centre to explain why it had launched the “indefinite” strike, which it said would affect all of the university’s campuses.

CPUT has campuses in areas including Bellville, Wellington, Mowbray and just outside the V&A Waterfront in Granger Bay.

Monwabisi Luthuli, Sasco’s provincial secretary, said R5 000 was an unreasonable registration fee.

Luthuli accused the university of mismanagement and said students affiliated to Sasco rejected the rumoured 12 percent increase in tuition fees for this year.

“As things stand, the university expects students to pay an absurd amount of R5 000 for residential students and R3 400 for Oppidan students (those not living in university accommodation),” said Luthuli.

“If the average South African household is not even earning R2 500 a month, you can’t say R5 000 (for registration) is reasonable,” he said.

He said the organisation was willing to negotiate with the university, but would not accept anything higher than a R2 500 registration fee for students living off-campus.

“We are prepared to pay R3 400 for residential students and R2 400 for Oppidan students for registration.”

“The Minister of Higher Education and Training, Blade Nzimande, committed, at our national congress, that the amount of R2 500 for registration must be kept,” said Luthuli.

He said the strike, which started yesterday, would continue “until further notice”.

“If we can get a solution tomorrow, we will suspend mass demonstrations,” said Luthuli.

He singled out the office of the dean of students at CPUT for particular criticism, saying there had been no move from the office to develop CPUT.

“Education is not a commodity, it is not something that we sell,” said Luthuli.

He said Sasco would submit a memorandum of demands to the chairperson of CPUT’s university council on Thursday.

“The memorandum will be submitted with all our demands, with fees and maintenance being most important on that list.”

Luthuli said the strike was peaceful, and that Sasco had told its members that no looting and no destruction of university property was permitted.

“Any violent people,” he said, “are not members of Sasco.”

CPUT said: “The council of the Cape Peninsula University of Technology reached a decision to increase class fees and residence fees by 11 percent for the 2012 academic year.

“In addition, a structural price adjustment has been applied to a number of university-owned residences which currently charge significantly lower fees than equivalent quality leased residences.”

It confirmed the R5 000 up-front payment for students in residence.

CPUT offered no comment on the violence.

Last May there were similar scenes at CPUT’s Cape Town campus when a shop was looted and administrative staff were urged to leave their desks during a student protest over registration fees.

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