By Nkosingiphile Dladla (5 mins read)
The University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN) had to commence this academic year on Monday, 3rd February 2020. It did not happen after some of the students had protested and set several of the institution’s buildings alight, following simmering tension.
Classes were suspended until Monday, 17th February 2020. “In addition, registration for both undergraduate and postgraduate students will continue, closing at 16H00 on Friday, 6 March 2020,” said UKZN acting Registrar, Kathy Cleland.
The burning of buildings – including an HIV and Aids support centre at the Howard College campus – has been described as “barbarism”.
They were set alight subsequent to the South African Union of Students (SAUS) calling for a national shutdown. This was in the wake of SAUS and the Department of Higher Education failing to reach consensus about the demands tabled by the student body.
Students got engaged in pitched battles with the police and they vowed to also burn down the School of Education in Edgewood Campus.
The union demanded that the Department intervene in settling students’ historical debts as they were on the verge of not registering. In addition, the Department should aid students from impoverished backgrounds with accommodations.
The violence comes after the new rule that makes it mandatory for students at the university with debts to pay 15% before registration. The institution said it already had a debt of R1.7 billion at the end of 2019.
Union distances itself from ‘third force’
The union has however distanced itself from the torching of the resourceful buildings, regarding such an action to be orchestrated by a “third force”. A force that exists not to address genuine student issues.
A video circulating on social media platforms shows people, who are allegedly security guards, arriving at the scene where the fire took place in a UKZN Pietermaritzburg campus lecture hall. The voice of the person filming the clip is heard from the background saying, “Bukani ke phela, yi security yonke le enganayo! [take a look, it’s the security guards arriving].”
SAUS national spokesperson, Thabo Shingange, called for an investigation for those responsible to be held accountable. “We are concerned with what seems to be growing acts of irrationality and barbarism from individuals who masquerade as student activists championing student issues,” Shingane said.
He added that the right for students to protest over institutional matters at UKZN shouldn’t be misunderstood as the right to act outside of the confines of the law.
The secretary general of the Student Representative Council in UKZN, Mnqobi Msezane, echoed the same, “[The torching of the buildings] obviously falls under acts of criminality and selfishness because why burn it when it’s here to assist you or your pals?”
Msezane told The Open Journal that students do not need even to picket for registration, financial clearance and student accommodation.
UKZN’s spokesperson, Ashton Bodrick, said the institute could not put in place any further concessions for students without driving the institution into bankruptcy.
Whilst students at the UKZN’s Edgewood campus resorted to a violent approach, others at the Nelson R Mandela School of Medicine launched a fundraising campaign to help pay off medical students’ debts.
The fundraising campaign was called #IMadeADoctor, and it sought to raise one million rands. According to Independent Online, it is intended to assist about 118 MBChB (Bachelor of Medicine and Bachelor of Surgery) students who are about to face financial exclusion if their debts were still outstanding.
Xolisa Njapha, an SRC member, said their hopes were in raising this target amount before Friday, 14th February 2020, for those who were financially excluded to get a chance to register.
“As the student body, we have decided that we could not watch our fellow students faced with not completing their degrees because they lack funds to register. This way was made up as another way of resolving issues such as this,” said Njapha
The medical school’s SRC is using its Student Development Leadership and Governance to take in public donations. TOJ
Reporting by Nkosingiphile Dladla. Editing by Magnificent Mndebele and Gaby Ndongo. Feature image is Ukzn’s Howard College Campus. Image obtained from UKZN official Facebook page.