Pro­test­ers empty UCT with threats and dis­rup­tion

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - FRONT PAGE - JAN CRONJE

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. jan.cronje@inl.co.za

PIC­TURE: JA­SON BOUD

The uni­ver­sity cam­pus was largely de­serted this week, with few stu­dents at­tend­ing classes. Many met lec­tur­ers off cam­pus, or ac­cessed ma­te­ri­als on­line.

Atha­bile Nonx­uba

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