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This article appeared in the Herald

Clubhouse on south campus destroyed in early morning blaze

FOUR NMMU students who were arrested yesterday will appear in court this morning as classes at the university resume after a four-week shutdown. The first three students arrested – Lizo Jim, Thandeka Tshabalala and Thanduxolo Nkala – were taken to the Humewood police station at about 2.30pm yesterday.

Picture: EUGENE COETZEE BLAZE DEBRIS: NMMU’s Xanadu Melody clubhouse was destroyed by fire early yesterday. Nobody has claimed responsibility

The three had been at a meeting at the NMMU south campus Embizweni building when they were taken in for questioning and later charged.

A fourth student, Sinethemba Kepu, 28, handed himself over later in the day.

Attorney Zolile Ngqeza, who is representing all 15 NMMU students who have been arrested over the past four weeks of protesting, said the arrests were strange and unconstitutional.

He claimed the investigating officer had taken the docket to Grahamstown and only returned after 8pm, slowing down the time it took for the students to apply for bail.

Ngqeza, who is representing the students pro bono, said: “The students were arrested for an illegal march on October 6 and were kept at the police station from about 2pm for questioning relating to the arson of the clubhouse.” He did not know why Kepu handed himself in. The clubhouse at NMMU was burnt to the ground during the early hours of yesterday.

According to Rhodes University’s student newspaper, Activate, six students at that university were also arrested last night.

Activate reported that public order police were on campus using pepper-spray and firing rubber bullets.

Police spokeswoman Brigadier Sally de Beer said three NMMU students had been taken in for their involvement during a previous illegal march. “They were arrested in terms of the Regulation of Gatherings Act and will appear in court tomorrow [today],” De Beer said.

Confusion and anger followed the arrests, with members of the NMMU #FeesMustFall movement cancelling a night vigil and taking to Facebook and Twitter warning students not to go to the police station as “police have been instructed to capture any group that is congregated outside the police station”.

Writing on the Facebook page, Mahlatse Sekwati said: “They pressed the wrong button now. We have been peaceful, non-violent and cooperative all along with the management and this is what they do to us.”

The Facebook page said plans for today would be communicated by word of mouth.

The post read: “Leaders are communicating our stance at their residences. We are using the word of mouth method of communication as our social pages are compromised.”

The three students arrested yesterday were later released on bail of R200 each.

Kepu spent the night in custody as his bail could not be processed, Ngqeza said.

The fire at NMMU’s Xanadu Melody clubhouse on the south campus caused damage estimated at R1.7-million. NMMU spokeswoman Zandile Mbabela said the cause of the fire was unknown.

When asked about student and staff safety as classes resume today, Mbabela referred The Herald to the university’s website.

Under its frequently asked questions section the university deals with safety, saying: “NMMU has evacuation protocols in place for all campuses.

“Staff will be advised by protection services staff in partnership with the police ... as to where to congregate before being escorted out of danger.”

It also has escape routes for vehicles “that will be shared if and when the need arises”.

Contact information
Ms Zandile Mbabela
Media Manager
Tel: 0415042777