A residence at the University of KwaZulu-Natal's Pietermaritzburg campus was set alight on Monday morning. Picture: Sherlissa Peters

Durban - The University of KwaZulu-Natal remained open on Monday despite another arson attack. University spokesman Lesiba Seshoka said: “Executive Management condemns in the strongest possible terms the malicious damage to property that has occurred on its campuses.”

The condemnation followed the burning of the William O'Brian residence on the Pietermaritzburg residence earlier on Monday morning. He said that apart from the fire to the reception area of the residence there were also “reports of the smearing of excrement on the Commerce Building”. He said that a test and a lecture at the Pietermaritzburg campus were cancelled.

Seshoka said that security checks also resulted in a man being thrown off campus after he was found in possession of an illicit substance. He did not say what the substance was. “Disciplinary action will be taken against another student found in possession of drug paraphernalia,” he said.

He pointed out that the university had not taken any decision over fee increases. The university's council would only finally decide on fee increases, if any, in October.

Sphelele Nguse, the student representative council leader for the university's Pietermaritzburg campus, said that the struggle for free education was in danger of losing its moral high ground because of acts of vandalism that have characterised the protest action.

“Our struggle is getting hijacked by negative elements that simply do not have the interest of students at heart. No student who values education can burn university infrastructure when that same facility will be needed in future,” said Nguse.

He called on UKZN students to stand up and protect their institution from thugs. “Some of the people taking part in the protests are not students, and you can see that in the way they conduct themselves. We have always advocated for peaceful and violence-free protests, anyone who understands our cause would therefore not engage in vandalism or violence,” said Nguse.

“We want free education which is a genuine demand. But it is equally important to ensure that the infrastructure of our institution is protected because we are going to need in future,” Nguse added. He conceded that because of the acts of vandalism, it was becoming difficult to get support from other sectors, especially civil society and religious groups.

“No organisation wants to be associated with thuggery, so even the structures that would support us are becoming reluctant when on a regular basis there are media reports of vandalism. This needs to stop and it is up to students to ensure that this does not happen in our name,” he said.

On Friday, Higher Education Minister Dr Blade Nzimande made a similar call for UKZN students to protect their institution, saying it pained him as a former student to see parts of the campus getting destroyed by people he labelled as thugs. He said parents and workers should not stand and watch as the institution gets destroyed, as this would hurt generations of students that wanted to acquire education.

Police spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Thulani Zwane said: “This morning at about 07:15am a building was set alight at the UKZN Campus in PMB by a group of about five people. They fled the scene after the incident.” Zwane said no arrests had been made and that police were investigating the arson attack.

Last week the campus was the scene of running battles between the police and students amid protests demanding the elimination of fees. A fire was started at the Malherbe Residence. Cars were stoned, one student was injured and police had to use rubber bullets, stun grenades and tear gas.

Nine students were arrested on Thursday and appeared in court for a bail application. They are currently in custody awaiting their bail hearing, which is expected to take place on Friday.

African News Agency