Protesters empty UCT with threats and disruption
FIRE alarms at UCT have taken on new meaning.
On Wednesday at 3pm, an alarm sounded soon after about 80 protesting students entered the architecture building on upper campus.
Minutes later 30 students and lecturers started filing out.
It was just another day on campus this week.
The students stood in small groups on University Avenue, waiting for department heads to tell them what to do.
Nearby, eight public order police officers kept watch. An armoured car was parked 50m down the road.
After a short discussion, it was decided students should head home.
But first student protest leader Athabile Nonxuba addressed them over a loudspeaker: “Each and every student must write an email tonight to Max Price,” said Nonxuba, who has been leading protests to shut down the institution.
“All of us must write to him and say things are not normal. The issues must be resolved.”
On Monday the university campus had reopened with a heavy police and private security presence, after four weeks of no classes.
Nonxuba, a public policy student, is a member of the Pan Africanist Student Movement of Azania (Pasma), the student wing of the PAC.
This year, he and fellow activists founded the student protest group Shackville TRC and later SRC Candidates. This group has, since mid-September, taken the lead in negotiations with university management, which have since broken down.
The SRC elections were “indefinitely” suspended last month after Nonxuba’s fellow Pasma candidate, Masixole Mlandu, was interdicted from entering university property.
The architecture department was the sixth building protesters attempted to empty on Wednesday under the banner of “The Shutdown Continues”.
When the 80 to 120 protesters met earlier on Wednesday, Nonxuba made it clear closing the university was a condition of reopening negotiations.
The basis for talks is a list of demands the protesters published last month.
In addition to free education for all students and a R12 500 minimum wage for workers, it included the establishment of a truth and reconciliation commission to address fallout from the so-called Shackville protests in February, where artwork was burnt, as well as amnesty and the return of students interdicted from campus.
UCT has repeatedly condemned intimidation of staff and disruptions of teaching.
Wednesday’s protest started with a march to the Beattie Building, then continued to the Leslie Social Sciences building, past a burned-out bakkie set alight last week, before protesters continued to the New Engineering Building.
The campus was largely empty, with some buildings closed and few students around. The group continued to the department of chemical engineering, arriving at around 1pm. But staff refused to leave.
Speaking on a loudspeaker outside, Nonxuba slammed their “arrogance”, saying the protesters had been peaceful.
If violence broke out, it would be the fault of the departmental head who didn’t agree to demands to leave, he claimed.
The department, and not protesters, would now need to take responsibility if “anyone dies, a staff member dies, and someone kept them hostage, and one of them dies”.
For Professor Harro von Blottnitz, Nonxuba’s words were a clear case of intimidation and the setting off of a fire alarm by protesters illegal.
Later on Wednesday he lodged a complaint with police. “The case of intimidation which was reported to Rondebosch police is being investigated. No one has been arrested as yet,” said police spokeswoman Brigadier Sally de Beer.
Price also condemned what he called the “mounting aggression, vandalism and violence”.
“The disruption in the New Engineering Building involved the threat of arson, with the protesters making it known that they were well aware of the dangerous chemicals contained in the labs there,” he said on Thursday.
After leaving Chemical Engineering, the protesters made their way to the student cafeteria. There the protests turned violent, and two private security members were hospitalised after being attacked by protesters.
One had a “rock dropped on his head” and another was beaten with a metal pipe, according to UCT.
A video of the attack shows protesters dancing and singing. Then a few break away and chase a security guard. The guard slips, or is pushed, and falls. He is then kicked and beaten with a piece of metal by protesters.
Moments later, the guard stands up groggily. He has since been discharged from hospital to recover at home.
The protesters then headed to the RW James Building and the architecture building, Nonxuba calling for discipline to be maintained. They then headed to the computer science faculty, where they sang songs on University Avenue.
Public order police started suiting up, as the protest was blocking the road. About 100m down the road private security guards stood at the ready. After an impromptu talk between police, protesters and a member of the peace and justice witness team, the students dispersed. email@example.com
The university campus was largely deserted this week, with few students attending classes. Many met lecturers off campus, or accessed materials online.