UKZN riots: Are students being tear-gassed over a rumour?

Students at the University of Kwa-Zulu Natal’s (UKZN’s) Westville campus rioted this week after learning that the university could ask for up to R9,000 in registration fees in 2015. In a circular that followed the protest, the university’s corporate relations department dismissed this information as a rumour, stating that next year’s registration fee will not increase by more than 20%. SHIMEI GANESH asked students and staff at UKZN for their views on the strike.                      

Cayla VergotineCayla Vergotine*, 24, postgraduate student, Queensburgh
Personally I think that this strike was initiated for a good reason as many students are battling to pay their fees, but the manner in which the strike was carried out was way too violent. I mean we are all students and we should be safe when entering campus. Stoning cars and teargasing lecture halls is just unacceptable. We all have a right to freedom of speech, but don’t we all have a right to education, and a right to freedom of choice as well? We should be allowed to choose whether we want to strike, not intimidated by other strikers to join. To have entered university, students should be adults and handle themselves in a diplomatic manner – [they could] call a meeting and raise concerns to the university body so urgent matters can be sorted out.

Pam De BeerPam De Beer, faculty administrator, Durban
Strikes can be very disruptive. For instance, a continuous assessment may be set, but students dare not go in and write as they fear being pulled out of their test venue. All the deadlines are thrown upside down. These strikes destabilize the administration and the academic programme, which is exactly what they strive to do. One also finds that the disruption lasts long after the strike has ended, because communication between admin and the students is not as effective as one would hope. Many students need access to campus LANs to read the e-mails I send out, but these LANs are closed during the strikes. We’re given roughly thirteen weeks to plan a semester’s work, with lectures rigidly allocated to each week. These strikes are often to the students’ detriment as many of these lectures have to be omitted.

Melody MhlongoMelody Mhlongo, early 20s, undergraduate student, Durban
I totally agree with the strike, because you can’t just go from R3,250 to R9,000. Some students were even struggling with R3,250 to begin with. I’m not sure whether the SRC discussed it with management first, or whether they just took to the streets. I believe that they need to discuss first. If there is no resolution, then maybe they can strike. I don’t agree with smashing of property and stuff like that, but you never know the depth of people’s struggles. Although, if you look at it from management’s perspective, students pay their registration fees and then they don’t pay the rest. I think that puts a strain on the university’s finances. R9,000 covers a heftier portion of your tuition fees, so maybe that’s why they were looking at increasing it by so much.

Kenneth DlaminiKenneth Dlamini*, 22, undergraduate student, campus residence
I think it is very important that students understand why we must stand together as one when we are being oppressed by those in power. We show our unity when we come together to express how we feel about issues that affect us so deeply. The fact of the matter is that the university was prepared to make ridiculous demands and will take us for granted if we do not show some kind of resistance. We don’t like to disrupt our fellow students’ education, but sometimes this is our only way of getting the message across to management. It is not the first time that they have been willing to make demands that have a negative effect on the students. In 2013 there was a time when some students on residence had no water and electricity. If we do not strike then the university does not fix these situations.

Nipho MazibukoNipho Mazibuko, 19, undergraduate student, Stanger
It is my first year at UZKN and I was shocked to see some of the things that were happening on campus. I’ve heard about the strikes, but this was the first time I was sitting in a lecture when the strikers started banging on the door and then forced all of us out. Students were burning tyres, breaking campus property, and warned us to stay out of their way if we did not join. One of my friends even said that she got tear-gassed inside her lecture venue. Earlier this week, UKZN sent us an e-mail stating that the alleged increase of registration fees to R9,000 was just a rumour. Does this mean that we are getting teargased and missing lectures for nothing? I understand the need to express your opinion, but I wish we could just do this without being so destructive.

Shimei Ganesh profile picShimei Ganesh is a media and communications postgraduate, a compulsive people-watcher and perpetually thirsty for living, learning and a life of leftism. Follow him on Twitter.

*Names have been changed for fear of victimisation

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