PRETORIA – Hundreds of University of Pretoria students marched silently around their closed campus on Thursday morning, seeking divine intervention to racial tensions rocking the institution.
The students from different races, only had one large placard written #PrayerWalk.
Leader of the group, Tobie Snyman, said their gathering was not even “a peaceful protest but a prayer gathering”.
“The whole idea is just to walk around our campus and pray. We want God’s promises to this country to be fulfilled. We want unity,” said Snyman.
“If we start having different posters, then we will have other guys saying this, others saying that. They must say things we don’t agree with.”
He said like the biblical “walls of Jericho”, the students’ fervent prayers will “shift the atmosphere”.
The group has been meeting after 6am from Monday and hope to continue until Sunday.
Numerous motorists hooted along Lynnwood Road as the students marched, some holding hands.
The students finally congregated at an open space adjacent to the university’s main entrance, where they broke into smaller groups and prayed.
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Numerous security guards could be seen inside campus. A group of police officers on horseback also patrolled the area.
UP students and friends Martin Nel and Martin Mushomba said they believe their participation in the #PrayerWalk was a stance for unity and tolerance.
“There is a lot of turmoil in our campus currently. I feel that there is sharp polarisation because of the sharp divide between races. Supporting one side can only flare up the tensions. Not doing anything about it is also a standpoint on its own,” said Mushomba.
“What we are having here is part of a bigger problem in our country. Hatred is going to cause more hatred. It’s like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die. When you hate, you are hurting yourself.”
Nel said the racial tensions had left the students “broken apart”.
“Now the love of Jesus Christ is going to unite us. We can’t figure out the way forward on our own.”
On Monday, a case against 27 University of Pretoria students, who were charged with violence which erupted at the university’s Hatfield and Groenkloof campuses, was postponed to April 7 for further investigation.
The students were arrested when violence erupted at the two university campuses on Thursday and Friday last week during protests against the institution’s proposed language policy amendment.
Academic activities at the two campuses were suspended on Friday following clashes between AfriForum Youth and Economic Freedom Fighters Student Command (EFFSC) members a day earlier.
The proposals were that English be used as a primary language of instruction in all lectures, and that Afrikaans and Sepedi languages be used for additional support to students in tutorials and practicals.
However, some student organisations such as the Pan Africanist Student Movement of Azania (PASMA), EFFSC and South African Students Congress (SASCO) indicated that they were not happy with the proposed amendments and want English to be used as the only medium of instruction in the institution’s academic activities.
The arrested students, who are facing charges of public violence, trespassing and malicious damage to property were released on bail.
Meanwhile, a building was torched at the North West University in Mafikeng.