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This article appeared in the Herald of 19 October 2016.

THE resumption of classes at NMMU looks increasingly shaky, with police and students in running battles yesterday as the south campus was turned into a war zone.

And last night, the parking lot next to female residence Veritas was ablaze just before midnight.

It could not be established how it started or who the perpetrators were.

As the university struggles to open its doors after a closure lasting almost a month, protesting student leaders say they will not back down, while others – keen to return to class – have expressed fears, saying they do not know where to turn.

Students and police went head to head at the south campus yesterday, with stun grenades, teargas and rubber bullets fired to disperse crowds who had been throwing stones.

The drama unfolded just after 6am when protesting students blockaded the entrance to the south campus with rocks, beds and dustbins.

#FeesMustFall leader Lizo Jim said the movement remained resolute in their call for free higher education.

Meetings of both management and student groups were still in progress late last night.

NMMU spokeswoman Zandile Mbabela said university operations would continue today despite reports of classes being disrupted yesterday.

“[NMMU] remains committed to completing the academic year,” she said.

“Staff and students are advised that classes and university operations will continue [today].

“These challenges are not unique to NMMU and are being experienced by universities throughout the country.

“Based on our experience [yesterday], various measures have been put in place to improve security.”

At least nine students were arrested – eight at NMMU’s George campus and one in Port Elizabeth.

Asked if the methods used to disperse protesters were necessary, police spokeswoman Brigadier Sally de Beer said they had been necessary.

“The police had been ordered to maintain order and using minimal force, which is stun grenades, teargas and rubber bullets – and they will not take action unless they are provoked,” she said.

De Beer confirmed the arrest of eight students – six women and two men – at the NMMU George campus for contravention of a court order and contravening the Gatherings Act, after they prevented access to other students to the campus.

She also confirmed the arrest of a 28-year-old student at NMMU’s south campus on charges of public violence and contravention of a court order. The Port Elizabeth student would appear in court today, De Beer said.

With a police helicopter hovering above, dozens of students gathered at south campus building 123 and were forced back to residences by police.

In the chaos, a stun grenade was thrown through a Xanadu residence window, catching alight and leaving a room with a burnt curtain, broken plasma TV and damaged furniture.

Acting vice-chancellor Dr Sibongile Muthwa, along with staff members, walked up University Way to the Embizweni building with students who wanted to resume classes.

They were prevented from entering by protesting students.

In an attempt to engage the protesters, Muthwa asked for the group to be let through so classes could resume. “We don’t take popular decisions and this is one of them,” Muthwa said.

The students responded by asking Muthwa to order the police to stand down.

“We did not invite police onto campus. This directive is from the government.

“The police were instructed to be on all campuses nationwide,” Muthwa said.

A police officer called on a loud-hailer for the crowd to evacuate before police set off more teargas.

A fire – the cause of which was unknown – broke out in the conservancy area between the north and south campuses, with at least two more flaring up.

Meanwhile, the legal representatives for the Concerned Association of Parents and Others for Tertiary Education at Universities (Captu) had a meeting with Judge Clive Plaskett in the Grahamstown High Court yesterday.

Captu committee member Robert Griebenow said they had been advised by the judge to have another meeting with NMMU management.

He said the committee members would meet today to decide on their next steps.

“We feel as if Dr Muthwa did not act according to the university’s interdict against the students, which is unfortunate,” Griebenow said.

The university had planned to resume classes today after almost a month of no lectures following an announcement on fees by Higher Education Minister Blade Nzimande last month.

A non-protesting student, who did want to be named, said she feared for her life.

“I’m feeling shaky as I talk to you – this is all very scary,” the student from Limpopo said.

“I was called a betrayer and a sell-out while walking with my lecturer.”

Outside the Port Elizabeth Magistrate’s Court earlier in the day, a group of students joined in prayer after arrested student Sinethemba Kepu was released on warning.

Three other students – Lizo Jim, Thandeka Tshabalala and Thanduxolo Nkala – who were arrested on Monday for their alleged involvement in an illegal march, were released on bail of R200 later.

Attorney Zolile Ngqeza, on instruction from the Black Lawyers’ Association, said only Kepu had appeared in court yesterday. He will appear in court again on December 14. Ngqeza said he was not only representing the students who were arrested, but was also in the process of finding solutions to #FeesMustFall issues students are facing.

Additional reporting by Amir Chetty and Devon Koen.

Contact information
Ms Zandile Mbabela
Media Manager
Tel: 0415042777