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This article appeared on HeraldLive on 29 September 2016.

Student protests continue, with 11 arrests at Rhodes, fears over NMMU academic calendar

The University of Fort Hare was closed yesterday and students ordered to vacate all residences by 5pm today after a call to return to classes was ignored by a group of “disruptive students”.

In a letter addressed to students, Fort Hare management said it had noted that they had not returned to classes. “This is [apart from] a few in East London who were intimidated by disruptive students.”

The university said it had no alternative but to temporarily close.

The order came as chaos erupted at Rhodes University in Grahamstown, resulting in a number of students being arrested.

Police fired rubber bullets and stun grenades at students and arrested 11 of them after numerous skirmishes yesterday morning.

Rhodes had announced on Tuesday night that the academic programme would resume yesterd a y, but the student representative council (SRC) urged students to stay away.

While hundreds heeded the call to return to lectures, small groups of protesters went to lecture venues to urge them to continue the boycott.

Several lectures had to be abandoned after being disrupted. Small bands of protesters and police clashed on campus during the morning, with some protesters being pepper-sprayed.

By 11am, it was clear attitudes on both sides were hardening. Several protesters attempted to disrupt a lecture at the law department, but the students attending the lecture, as well as the two lecturers, told them to leave.

Police arrested five for allegedly contravening an interim interdict prohibiting student protesters from disrupting lectures and the administration of the university, among other things.

Later, police fired at dozens of protesters in Somerset Street and five more students were arrested for blockading a public road. A sixth was arrested for allegedly hurling a brick at a police vehicle.

Witnesses said there had been an exchange of insults between police and students and, after the brick was thrown, police had fired stun grenades.

A woman cowering under the wall on the university side was hauled over it by a policeman and shoved into a police van. Fort Hare vice-chancellor Mvuyo Tom had also appealed to students to return yesterday.

But East London Fort Hare students who tried to return w e re blocked from doing so.

Fort Hare said students could return to their residences on October 11 and lectures would start the following day, but after a meeting yesterday afternoon they vowed to stay put.

In Port Elizabeth, NMMU acting vice-chancellor Sibongile Muthwa apologised for the university’s closure , which was causing considerable anxiety and frustration.

“We are acutely aware of the negative impact this is having on our academic activities and operations, but more importantly on our students and their families,” she said.

“NMMU sincerely apologises that university operations have been disrupted in spite of our best efforts to prevent this.” Muthwa said using force to ensure the university stayed open was not the answer.

“Forceful interventions at other universities have shown that this tends to escalate conflict and delays reaching a peaceful resolution,” she said.

While the NMMU management was engaging with various stakeholders to reopen the university, failure to resolve the matter could result in the academic calendar being significantly adjusted and possibly extended into next year.

“[It could also lead] to the postponement of the summer graduation along with the possibility that some of our final-year students cannot graduate in 2017.”

She said processing applications for 2017 admissions was also being affected.

“The university is developing contingency plans to minimise the impact of the shutdown on our academic activities and operations.”

NMMU students who support the # FeesMustFa ll movement, will meet the university’s SRC today to discuss a way forward. There were also developments at other educational institutions:

  • University of Cape Town vice-chancellor Max Price said if the protest went beyond three weeks the academic programme would not be completed this year.
  • Wits University students marched to the Chamber of Mines to hand over a memorandum demanding more support from the private sector.
  • University of Johannesburg graduations continued despite clashes between private security staff and students. Later, stones were thrown at protesting students at the Doornfontein campus. Some were also hit with batons and others pepper -sprayed.
  • Durban University of Technology students surrounded the entrance and exit of a hotel at which DUT management and Department of Higher Education officials were said to be meeting with protesting students.
  •  In Limpopo, the academic programme was suspended indefinitely after violent incidents.

Contact information
Mrs Debbie Derry
Deputy Director: Communication
Tel: 041 504 3057