Varsities shut after #Fees2017 protest drama

Johannesburg – Wits University has shut down its campuses following Tuesday’s violence and unrest.

There is a large police contingent patrolling the Braamfontein campus on Wednesday morning.Students, police and private security guards at Wits clashed several times throughout Tuesday as the #Fees2017 protests continued in full throttle.

A war of rocks ensued on Tuesday afternoon as Wits students and private security guards pelted each other with stones as the rioting students tried to gain access into Solomon Mahlangu House through the Great Hall.

This came after protesting students attempted to push through a blockade of private security guards on the Great Hall steps.

As students threw rocks at private security, private security retaliated by picking up those same rocks and pelting them back at the students.

Police and students also clashed during the day as students marched between Main Campus, Medical and Education Campus. Stun grenades and tear gas were shot at students as they blocked roads en route to their destination.

In a statement the university said late on Tuesday night that considering the safety of its staff and students, the Senior Executive Team, in consultation with the Chairperson of Council, had “taken the decision to suspend all University activities for the rest of the week”.

“Academics, professional, administrative and support staff and students need not come on to Wits’ campuses tomorrow.

However the university said residences and dining halls should operate as usual and staff in these areas should report for duty.

Wits also condemned the actions of those who perpetrated acts of violence on its campus on Tuesday.

The university also said that some staff members and four students had sustained injurieson Tuesday. “It has been an incredibly disappointing day for the University.

“This is not what Wits represents and goes against everything that we hold dear as a University – the ability to respect the rights of others, to treat each other with humanity and the ability to use our intellectual skills to convince others of our perspective.

“It breaks down the trust between peers, students, staff and others and creates an environment that is unsuitable for teaching, learning and engagement,” it added.

The university said it had reached out to the student leadership in an attempt to resolve matters on Tuesday night.

The Executive Committee of Council also planned to meet later on Wednesday and the university will communicate further thereafter.

Several other universities were on a knife-edge on Tuesday as the stand-off over Higher Education Minister Blade Nzimande’s decision to allow the institutions to increase fees by up to 8 percent continued.

University of Cape Town students barricaded entrances and disrupted lectures. Barricades were set up on Baxter Road, the northern entrance to upper campus at the top of Woolsack Avenue, the medical school campus and the south entrance.

A large group of students disrupted lectures, effectively preventing any access to campus. Students used boulders, tree stumps, rubble and canoes to barricade the access routes.

UCT was eventually forced to suspend classes, lectures and tutorials on Tuesday and Wednesday. Jammie Shuttle routes have been suspended and the library, including the 24/7 study area, is closed until further notice.

Riot police and private security tried to quell tensions through high visibility. The university’s executive has scheduled a meeting with student representatives to discuss the way forward.

Stellenbosch University’s Tygerberg campus was also blockaded, causing the suspension of classes. University spokesman Martin Viljoen said: “We are monitoring the situation. We acknowledge the students’ right to protest as long as they are not infringing on the rights of other students. There are contingency plans in place to deal with the situation as best as possible.”

The management at the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University in Port Elizabeth urged its staff and students to stay off campus as protests continued.

Fort Hare University managed to avert the protests after announcing a “zero percent” fees hike for next year, after students had given the institution an ultimatum to clarify its position.

The University of KwaZulu-Natal said it would remain open and start its academic programme as normal, while extra security was deployed. Student leaders at UKZN Pietermaritzburg campus have threatened to occupy the provincial legislature unless their demands are met.

“We are not writing any more love letters to the government,” Xola Mehlomakhulu of the university’s EFF student command shouted outside the provincial parliament on Tuesday.

“We are not writing any more love letters to our vice-chancellor either,” he said.

Hundreds of students from the Pietermaritzburg campus marched to the legislature on Tuesday, demanding free higher education.

The march started at the university’s main campus just after 10am and students reached the legislature just before midday.

There they handed over a memorandum of understanding rejecting Nzimande’s announcement.

Mehlomakhulu, along with the president of the Pietermaritzburg Students’ Representative Council, Siphelele Nguse, and Bonginkosi Khanyile – also of the EFF student command – climbed atop a police Nyala to address students before the memorandum was handed over.Their message was clear.

“This is a warning,” Khanyile said. “When we come back, we are going inside.” He gestured to the legislature.

“Last year we handed over a memorandum,” he said. “The year before last we handed over a memorandum. This year we are handing over a memorandum again. This is the last time.

“Next time, we are going to occupy.”

Unisa students have also resolved to join other universities in demanding “free education” while student leaders at both the Tshwane University of Technology (TUT) and the University of Pretoria on Tuesday vowed not to disrupt the academic programme or shut down campuses until management had decided on fee increases for 2017.

TUT students appeared to be divided on whether or not to shut down the campuses, but indicated there would be no further disruption.

Students at the TUT Arcadia and Arts campuses shut down both campuses as they were against the possible fee increment. They proceeded to Pretoria West campus to shut it down as well, but did not succeed. All they could do was disrupt classes briefly – but academic activities will return to normal on Wednesday.

“We made it clear last year that we do not want any form of increment but free education,”said Ntsindiso Noqhamza, of the Radical Student Movement at TUT.

He said they would not attend any classes until they were briefed by vice-chancellor and principal Lourens van Staden about the way forward.

The South African Students Congress (Sasco) dismissed the shutdown threat and forced leaders of other parties off the Pretoria West Campus.

“We met with the vice-chancellor on Monday and we were told to submit all issues, be it academic, housing, funding and the so-called missing middle so that we could start with negotiation,” said Monkie Maluleka, Sasco leader at TUT.

Maluleka said those who missed tests due to disruptions must communicate with him and his team to ensure they had their fair chance of writing.

TUT spokeswoman Willa de Ruyter said the university welcomed the proposed fee support from government which would ensure that National Student Financial Aid Scheme qualifying students, as well as the missing middle, would not be exposed to fee adjustments next year.

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