Durban - Lectures had to be cancelled at uMlazi’s Mangosuthu University of Technology on Monday when students went on the rampage, clashing with police and campus security over issues related to their registration for the new semester.
Lectures were expected to resume on Tuesday.
Traffic had to be diverted off Griffiths Mxenge (Mangosuthu) Highway, which leads to the university, after students blockaded the road with rubble, burnt tyres and stoned police vehicles.
Police retaliated by firing tear gas while a water cannon was used to douse the flames.
Hundreds of students demanded that those supported by the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) be allowed to register for the new semester, which resumed last week, “regardless of how much they owe”.
The university’s student representative council president, Thobani Mchunu, said the institution had not responded to the students’ complaints until registration for the new semester started two weeks ago.
The students also demanded that all residences be opened, “allowing students to have a choice of where they wanted to stay”. He said students were unhappy with the university’s arrangement that those who owed R10 000 or more first had to reduce their debt before they would be allowed to return to study.
The protest started last Thursday but escalated on Monday when the university refused to meet the students’ demands.
This was disputed by university spokesman Len Mzimela, who said the institution took the students’ concerns “seriously”. He said student debt stood at R181 million, “which has a bearing on the proper functioning of the institution”.
Students who had made an arrangement to pay their outstanding fees had been allowed to register.
He said the issue of accommodation was “perennial” with all universities, saying there was “a limit to how much you can accommodate students”. The university was building a 640-bed residence, which could not be completed overnight.
The chaos also caused panic among residents living near the campus who had to deal with the tear gas.
Smangele Shandu, who was at home with her seven grandchildren when the drama unfolded, said: “The police were firing at the students and, since our home is nearby, it became an easy sanctuary for escaping students. The gas flooded the house, suffocating the children. I had to wash their faces at the tap outside.”
She said she had confronted the police and pleaded with them to stop.
Police said five students were arrested for public violence.
A female student was put in the back of a police van.
Spokesman Thulani Zwane said property was damaged.