Durban – Students, university security and police were engaged in running battles at the University of KwaZulu-Natal’s Howard College, Pietermaritzburg and Westville campuses on Tuesday, as the university management suspended lectures.
Several students were arrested and police resorted to using rubber bullets, stun grenades and teargas to disperse the protesting students. On Tuesday evening, the law library in the university’s 85-year old Howard College building was set alight. The eThekwini Fire Brigade doused the blaze, but as the damage was being surveyed, security rushed to a residence for disabled students, where a mattress had been set alight.
That blaze was doused, but one female suffered a seizure outside the building and paramedics were called. Police spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Thulane Zwane confirmed that 23 students were arrested on Tuesday, at both campuses, for public violence and violating the court order that the university had obtained earlier this week, prohibiting protests.
One person was arrested at Howard College and 22 were arrested at the Westville campus.
He said that police estimated that about 250 students participated in the protests at Howard College, while about 50 participated in the protests at the Westville campus.
“A group of students protested inside the (Howard College) campus, throwing stones at the police. They also burnt campus property. They also threw stones at the police. Police had to use rubber bullets to disperse them.”
Smoke could be seen rising from the Howard College campus, but it is understood that this was due to debris and bins being set alight by students. Zwane said that he was not aware of any buildings having been set alight.
He said that police had to use rubber bullets to disperse the protesters in Pietermaritzburg.
The students were protesting against possible fees hikes and inadequate accommodation at campuses.
The protests follow those that had taken place overnight at the Westville and Pietermaritzburg campuses. Roads were closed off in Pietermaritzburg when about 70 students protested, while about 200 students set alight six vehicles and burnt the building’s senate chambers.
According to sources at the university, three of the burnt cars belonged to the institution, while the others were owned by two security companies.
The vehicles were torched right outside the university’s Risk Management Centre, which is responsible for the institution’s security.
In a short statement released on Tuesday afternoon, the university announced the suspension of its academic programme.
“University management today suspended the academic programme until further notice. The decision was taken to provide all parties with the space to engage and try and resolve the current impasse. We apologise for any inconvenience caused. Every effort is being made to ensure the continuation of the academic programme.”
It is understood that lectures will be suspended for at least a week. ANA was informed that the university intended to bring forward the September recess which students would normally have later in the month in a bid to prevent a loss of teaching time.
In a statement issued earlier on Tuesday morning, university spokesman Lesiba Seshoka said: “On the Westville campus, a large auditorium was set alight at around 11.30pm. University Risk Management Services and the Metro Fire Department managed to extinguish the fire by 3am.”
He said that the university had obtained the High Court interdict a few days earlier, which prohibits unlawful protests, disruptive gatherings, demonstrations, mass action, intimidation or any violent act to persons or property at the entrance and premises of University campuses.
Zwane said those arrested at the Westville campus would appear in the Pinetown Magistrate’s Court, while the student arrested at Howard College would appear in the Durban Magistrate’s Court.