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This article appeared in the Herald of 5 October 2016.

#OpenNMMU group takes peaceful route as violence continues at other universities

AS VIOLENCE continued at universities around the country, a group of NMMU students, frustrated by the continued closure of the Port Elizabeth university, has decided to stage a silent protest from today. The three-day protest will start at 8am. The #OpenNMMU movement, which has been pushing since last week for the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University to reopen so students can finish the academic year, has called for the silent protest to take place until Friday. 

COPS TARGETED: A rock is thrown at a police vehicle

This as the nation grapples with ongoing protests.

At Wits University in Johannesburg, lectures resumed on campus yesterday but had to be called off after protesting students and police clashed outside the Great Hall.

Police threw stun grenades and teargas and fired rubber bullets in the hope of dispersing the crowd, but students retaliated by lobbing stones, rocks and bottles.

Acting national police commissioner Khomotso Phahlane said 17 students had been arrested, including #FeesMustFall leader Busisiwe Seabe.

Phahlane said that while the police were required to “exercise maximum restraint, they also have to exercise their duties as set out by the constitution”.

“De-escalation of violence is the ultimate goal,” Phahlane said, adding that the “senseless destruction and violence – throwing stones and firing rubber bullets – cannot in any way be considered the solution”.

Wits spokesman Shirona Patel said more than 10 students had suffered minor injuries and a Wits lecturer who was injured had to be taken to hospital.

Wits student leader and former SRC president Mcebo Dlamini, who managed to flee from police when they attempted to arrest him, claimed police had been instructed by the university to target student leaders “because they think it would demoralise us”.

But he said: “We are showing that we are not scared of police brutality. The police want to intimidate us in our own home.

“We are saying, we’ll take the war to you.”

At Rhodes University in Grahamstown, protesters continued with intermittent disruptions of lectures.

There was a police and private security presence on campus and a private ambulance was parked nearby.

Students moved their fee protest off campus briefly by forming a double human chain and repeatedly crossing a double-lane public road at a pedestrian crossing. Traffic was brought to a standstill for a while until traffic officers intervened.

Later, Rhodes issued a circular to all staff and students slamming the tactic of locking students in some residences in an attempt to stop them going to lectures.

The university said locks and biometric readers had been vandalised, meaning students could not exit their living spaces or access meals in the morning. 

“In one case, a small residence was padlocked from outside, thereby seriously endangering the occupants,” the circular said. Some doors were also sealed with glue. Rhodes was also rocked by news that its SRC president, Gift Sandi, had been arrested in Johannesburg where he was attending a high-level stakeholder meeting to address the protests. The university confirmed that he had been arrested but denied claims it was for arson.

It said Sandi had been released without being charged and had not been required to appear in court.

It was a mistake that had quickly been rectified.

At the University of Cape Town, where lectures resumed although the libraries remained closed, protesters tried to block the entrances to the sprawling campus. Two students were arrested. UCT vice-chancellor Max Price said: “In addition to their alleged involvement with persistent barricading of access points after being warned‚ and intimidation‚ one of the students was in breach of an interdict that prohibits them from being on campus,”

“This brings the number of students arrested this week to eight.”

Meanwhile, #OpenNMMU spokesman Ishaan Jassat said the three-day silent protest was aimed at ensuring that students could complete the academic year without further delay.

“Our vision is to actively support the fees must fall [campaign] for everyone ... while facilitating the operation of institutions of higher learning in the interim,” he said.

Registered students and academic staff are expected to gather at the intersection of Admiralty Road and University Way in Summerstrand this morning, before making their way to NMMU’s south campus.

“We will be e-mailing [a memorandum] to NMMU management within the next day or two,” Jassat said

The third-year undergraduate said all necessary permission to hold the protest had been granted by the various authorities, including NMMU management, police and the university’s protection services.

“There will be police and security services present at the university and its surrounds for the protection of the protesters and public facilities.”

Jassat said the #OpenNMMU movement hoped to end the “financial [and] chronological impact of the current disruptions”.

“We do support the fact that fees must fall,” he said.

“However, suspension of academic activities significantly infringes on the scheduled curriculum for both under- and postgraduate students, and especially affects non-residing [fulltime] Port Elizabeth students.”

A representative of the NMMU student collective for the #FeesMustFall movement, who demanded not to be named, said its members would not take part in the silent protest.

“We acknowledge and respect everyone’s right to organise themselves or to be organised for their particular cause and we wish them luck,” the representative said.

She would also not say whether any resolutions had been taken at a meeting held by the #FeesMustFall group.

A decision had been made earlier that the group would not talk to the media until they had finalised their resolutions.

NMMU spokeswoman Zandile Mbabela said the university was aware of the planned silent protest.

“We are of the belief that students have the right to protest ... we hope that the protests will continue to be peaceful and respectful.

“Security personnel will be monitoring the situation.” – Additional reporting by TMG Digital