Cape Town – Disruptions began at Stellenbosch University (SU) on Monday, while the Western Cape’s other universities are locked in negotiations.
Twelve students started a hunger strike in front of SU’s Wilcox building, claiming they were unlawfully suspended.
Last month, the group, along with 19 other students, were interdicted by SU after what they called a peaceful protest descended into violence, when private security arrived to disperse them.
A student, who asked to remain anonymous, said the suspensions were unlawful and were also a clear move to collapse any more protest action.
“They did not follow their own by-laws and that gives us legal grounds to fight these suspensions. It’s clearly a way to silence us and dishearten our cadres, but in doing so they also transgressed their own rules.”
She said they were receiving legal assistance, but the university was enlisting the services of an expensive law firm and would seek to reclaim legal costs from them.
“Stellenbosch University believes they are a law unto themselves. Our families support us, but if we win how do we just go back to lectures and studies after all this trauma?”
A group of students stopped by the protest and while sympathetic, they believed the suspensions the university enforced were a clear statement that protests would not be tolerated.
Meanwhile, at another part of the campus, students and workers began disrupting lectures, setting off alarms, throwing over pot plants and dustbins while using fire extinguishers to force others to vacate classes.
SU spokesperson Martin Viljoen said the situation on the campus was volatile.
“This is, of course, totally unacceptable and very dangerous to all involved. Unconfirmed reports are that quite a number of the protesters are students from other universities and workers seem to have joined the protesters,” said Viljoen.
He added that four people were arrested after an altercation with security personnel and the police at the faculty of education.
“Workers and students from other institutions joined Stellenbosch University students today, and about 160 protesters moved around on the Stellenbosch campus with the goal of disrupting activities. The suspended students have been informed of the reasons for their suspensions,” said Viljoen.
He said the university obtained an interdict ordering 30 students to end the occupation of the Wilcox building and to refrain from disrupting academic or administrative staff.
“All activities will continue on Tuesday (today) and the rest of the week. Each protest creates new challenges but also new learning experiences.”
Additional measures have been instituted for Tuesday, Viljoen said, urging staff and students to remain calm and exercise patience, and not to respond to provocation or to confront protest groups.
Meanwhile, UCT will be closed on Tuesday, spokesperson Gerda Kruger confirmed.
“The meetings are continuing with the Student Representative Council and particularly the SRC candidates who are leading the protest action on campus at present.
“Private security company Vetus Schola remains withdrawn from the campus until further notice in the hope that this will enable us to have more positive engagements,” said Kruger.
Student activist Simon Rakei said talks were continuing and the only stumbling block appears to be the issues surrounding the suspended students.
University of the Western Cape spokesperson Luthando Tyhalibongo confirmed campus operations remain suspended for this week.
“We once again this morning experienced campus-wide disruptions, and some of the academic and professional support staff who were already at their work stations were told to vacate offices. The situation remains unconducive for working, teaching and learning.
“Discussions are under way to determine which courses and modules are impacted by this loss of two weeks, and we are exploring alternative strategies and options, including blended learning,” said Tyhalibongo.
He said the university will be monitoring the situation daily on the campus and nationally.
A student activist said there could be no negotiations until management agreed to students’ demands.
“They have called the Student Representative Council but they do not negotiate on our behalf.
“Our demands remain the same and we want proof that criminal charges and suspensions against cadres from this year and last year have been dropped,” said the activist.