Police officers and members of a private security company escort TUT students as they head to their exam venues by bus from the universitys North Campus in Soshanguve. Picture: Oupa Mokoena/Pretoria News

Pretoria - Tensions were rife on the campus of Tshwane University of Technology in Soshanguve on Monday when exams started amid a heavy police presence.

A total of 16 students were arrested and charged with public violence and contravention of a court order.

The university pushed ahead with the first day of exams at the Tshwane Events Centre amid a strong police contingent at Soshanguve North and South campuses.

The other campuses were not affected.

Students were unhappy about the state of affairs and upset by the presence of police.

Second-year education student Lindani Mhlongo said it made him feel as if he was in a “war zone”. “This whole situation is so volatile; if we’re not contending with police rubber bullets, we are getting beaten up by bouncers on campus,” he said.

Mhlongo said the only thing he was focusing on now was making sure he finished his exams so he could be in the safety of his home and enjoy the festive season.

Police spokesman Captain Matthews Nkoadi said the arrested students would be charged with public violence and contravention of a court order. “One student was taken in for questioning after being found in possession of petrol. Details of what he will be charged with are still unclear at the moment.”

Students reportedly spent Sunday night trapped between police and protesters demanding the postponement of exams, and thus could not study.

The protesting crowd argued that students lost valuable time due to #FeesMustFall unrest that hit universities in the past few weeks.

University spokeswoman Willa de Ruyter declared that postponing the exams and giving students extra study time was not feasible and would not happen.

Third-year language practice student Nozipho Khumalo said the entire ordeal had left her traumatised. Khumalo said she did not get enough time to sleep or revise the night before due to clashes between students and the police. “We were evicted from the campus and taken to the police station. The whole night we had to contend with rubber bullets and protesting students trying to force us to join them. This went on from 3am and again at 5am. The whole night we kept going up and down between the police and the students,” she said.

She understood the university’s attempt to complete the educational programme on schedule, but this was not fair to students as there were many disruptions in the weeks leading up to the exams, she said.

The protest started on Sunday evening and led to the torching of a North West Transport Investments bus, followed by the blockading of Aubrey Matlala Road early on Monday.

By late morning, thousands of students queued for buses to the examination venue, while specialised trucks removed large rocks and debris from the road. The students were searched before boarding the bus.

Tlhayisani Nkuna, another language practice student, said the past three weeks allocated for studying had been constantly disrupted by clashes between students and police. “I struggled a lot this week and am not ready for my exams. My worst fear is that I will embarrass my family with poor results,” he said.

“I was supposed to write at 2pm, but had to try to catch the bus early on, and yet they would not allow us to take study materials to revise while we wait.”

De Ruyter said that due to the hands-on nature of training provided by the institution, students were expected to prepare for all lectures beforehand.

“The university ensures that there is enough time and enough opportunities to prepare for exams.”

De Ruyter said, as such, rescheduling the exams as demanded by the students was not a feasible possibility.

“The knock-on effect of rescheduling exams, as was the case at the beginning of this year, has proved to be to the detriment of many students.

“For one, they had to return to campus at additional cost to write the exams in January; many students had already secured jobs or placements for work-integrated learning, which was put in jeopardy by them not being able to report for work at the agreed upon time.

“In January, we will admit 15 000 first-time students.

“Should the exams be suspended, it will have a significant effect on these new students since we will not be able to accommodate the new cohort of students together with the ones who have to sit for exams.”

De Ruyter added that private security and the police were on campus to ensure order and the safety of students, staff and property.

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