Burning beds and tear gas as UKZN students wage war

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Burning beds and tear gas as UKZN students wage war

Protest season has hit the varsity, this time over students who haven’t been able to register due to debt

Journalist

Students at the University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN) have waged a war against the institution for which some say they are prepared to die.  

On Wednesday chaos erupted at UKZN’s Westville campus as hundreds of students went on the rampage, blockading entrances and torching mattresses and fridges as tensions over the clearing of historical debt reached a boiling point. 

For two weeks UKZN students have been on the front line of clashes with security at many of its five campuses. 

The crux of the matter pertains to returning students who have not been able to register without settling 15% of their historic debt. 

Students say if they cannot register, they can only be temporarily housed at student accommodation and will not receive their much-needed National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) allowances. 

The two bulls are fighting and the grass is suffering.
UKZN SRC president Sifiso Simelane alleges the department of higher education and UKZN management are at odds

UKZN Student Representative Council president Sifiso Simelane said they had reached a stalemate with management and it was unclear whether NSFAS had paid out money to the university to clear students’ historic debt.

He alleged that university management had met the department of higher education and training last week, excluding the SRC from the talks. 

“The two bulls are fighting and the grass is suffering.”

But these allegations were denied by the institution. 

UKZN said: “The historic debt relief that has been approved by NSFAS was processed to the relevant students’ fee accounts in January 2020 even though the actual funds had not yet been received from NSFAS.”

Simelane in the meantime distanced the SRC from the violent clashes with UKZN security personnel on Wednesday, saying it was surely a sign that students had grown frustrated with the situation they faced.

Postgraduate student Aphiwe Mandinga, 24, says he has not received his NSFAS allowance, despite UKZN saying it had processed payments to the relevant students' fee accounts in January.
Postgraduate student Aphiwe Mandinga, 24, says he has not received his NSFAS allowance, despite UKZN saying it had processed payments to the relevant students' fee accounts in January.
Image: Sandile Ndlovu

He said a meeting with the UKZN Council, the highest decision-making body within the university structure, had been scheduled for Monday, in which they hoped to settle the issues once and for all. 

But with only 12 days left before registration closes, students have vowed to up their fight for their right to education. 

A student, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said he would rather die fighting for education than go back to his home to be a nobody.

Casualties can be expected, we are prepared to die for the cause.
Protesting student

“You think we want to fight? We don’t want to fight with the university, we just want to be able to register and study. Casualties can be expected; we are prepared to die for the cause,” he said.  

Aphiwe Mandinga, a 24-year-old postgraduate marketing and supply chain student, said people who come from privilege would not understand their fight for education. 

“I cannot leave university to pursue a job, look at SA’s high unemployment rate. I need to study, but I cannot even do this in this country.”

The provincial secretary of the South African Students Congress (Sasco), Sfiso Nkabinde, called on the government to speed up the “university bailout” so that students could resume their studies. 

Sasco provincial secretary Sfiso Nkabinde.
Sasco provincial secretary Sfiso Nkabinde.
Image: Sandile Ndlovu

“Let the students be cleared of their debt, let the council, through their findings, assist in this regard. We are not going to allow any student to go back home because of historical debt,” he said. 

Violence

Police spokesperson Capt Nqobile Gwala confirmed that about 120 students had engaged in public violence. 

“At approximately 5am they blockaded the road to the Westville campus. They burned mattresses and fridges. They also set alight the gymnasium situated at the campus.”

She said that following the interruptions members of Public Order Police were deployed to stabilise and monitor the situation. 

“A case of public violence is under investigation.”