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CPUT: a militarised campus is the new norm

NEWS COMMENTARY

After weeks of ongoing tensions, four expulsions, petrol-bombed buildings, the resignation of a dodgy vice chancellor and the temporary closure of campus due to escalating protests, Cape Peninsula University of Technology (CPUT) campuses finally re-opened on Wednesday. Management reported negotiations had taken place with students, which meant that the storm had finally passed. But that was hardly the case. At a mass meeting on Wednesday, students made it clear that CPUT would not return to business as usual until a university general assembly is held to address pending issues they refuse to abandon.

Entering CPUT Bellville, you immediately got the impression that the situation was abnormal. On Wednesday the campus gates were guarded by eight armed men, dressed in full military attire. The armed men are from private security company Vetus Schola, the firm CPUT has hired, allegedly for millions of rands. The armed men searched every car and turned away any visitor who did not have adequate reason to enter the university. If you were unaware of the context, you’d think you were at a border crossing – perhaps even entering an occupied territory.

But inside the campus, the environment was deceptively calm. Students and staff casually strolled about in what seemed a quiet learning environment. It was only upon closer examination that you realised there was a lot more going on. Besides the obvious holes in windows from stone barrages, the men in military gear guarded certain buildings. Every few minutes a large armoured vehicle drove by on patrol, while large armed men were stationed at various points, their eyes scrutinising whoever walked past. It soon became clear that this was not the quiet environment of a calm learning space, but rather the quiet of anxiety and tension from having a small paramilitary force looking over your shoulder.

Most interesting was the presence of a tank-like armoured vehicle stationed between the residences and student centre. It was notably different to the hippos and nyalas South Africans are used to seeing. One of the security guards commented that it was British-made. One could only wonder what its original purpose was for.

At the student mass meeting, they first dealt with the banning of two Sasco students from the movement. The students were told to leave the space for going behind the movement’s back to negotiate with management without consulting the mass movement itself. One of the leaders emphasised that the issue of partisan politics continued to plague the student movement by bringing in foreign agendas. He said that the plight of the poor black students could not be won by any party or leader representatives, but only by poor black students themselves.

The meeting clarified that, in spite of contradicting reports, students had not resolved a number of issues with management. Their current demands included:

  • The end of financial exclusions until the realisation of free decolonised education;
  • The waiving of upfront registration fees;
  • The removal of Vetus Schola and all security companies from campuses;
  • The formal signing of contracts for workers to be insourced;
  • A university general assembly to take place sometime this week or weekend.

The university general assembly was the focal point. The students wanted an open and democratic space where all could engage on the above matters, and did not want to continue going to classes under the current context of unresolved issues and while having armed men intimidating them. They spoke of raids that took place every night in residences where dogs were brought in to search through their belongings. They say this was dehumanising and a breach of their rights and dignity. They wanted the ongoing confrontations to end, but would not do so until their concerns were resolved.

After the meeting the students resolved to peacefully walk to the administration building and sit outside on the grass while one of them requested a representative from management to address them on organising the assembly sometime this week. This happened without incident. Although Vetus Schola surrounded the students with their armoured vehicles as they gathered, they did not interfere with the students as they awaited a response from management.

Outside the campus gates students and workers from the University of Cape Town (UCT) had arrived to protest the continued use of Vetus Schola as a replacement to public order policing. As has been argued elsewhere, Vetus Schola has a murky track record in quelling protests and students have said they represent the university resorting to apartheid military tactics on students.

On the situation on campus and escalating violence, a CPUT student leader said most students were now unfazed by the situation.

“This has been going on since June. There’s no more fear because violence here has become normal. We operate and live in this police state,” he said.

After about an hour of waiting on the field, the CPUT students were informed that management refused to meet with them. This visibly upset the students who said that they’d made attempts to engage openly, only to be set aside again.

“We should not be worried by management’s response, it’s not a matter of refusing us. By the end of this week there will be a university general assembly. They made this campus a war-zone. We have tried for peace, now we must respond in kind,” a student leader said.

Not long after, shots could be heard from across campus. Students fled the area as Vetus Schola officials pursued them. At the staff parking more than four vehicles owned by CPUT staff members had been hit with stones – their windows and windshields destroyed.

One of the staff members, a secretary working in the administration building, broke down in tears after seeing what had happened to her car.

“I don’t understand. I had nothing to do with the students’ issues with the management,” she said.

She said it was likely that the students were targeting other cars and that hers was collateral damage. Other members of staff soon congregated around the vandalised cars, most were visibly angry.

“They [management] said it would be safe for campus to begin again. How is this safe? This has gone too far now,” one commented.

Others questioned the logic behind spending the amount of money on private security companies if this was still the end result.

Close to the end of the afternoon most activity on campus had died down. There’s little doubt that going into the rest of the week, the situation at CPUT campuses is likely to continue escalating. There’s likely be more damage to property, something we can readily measure. What’s more challenging to measure, though, is what effect ongoing militancy has on young people – and what it means for us to have normalised a pseudo-military presence in our spaces of education.

8 Comments
  1. dan says

    This is further proof that this so called #FMF movement will not succeed, in fact it will only get worse for the poor black students.

    At the end of the day, when all the matresses are burned, all the lecture halls and libraries have been destroyed with petrol bombs, all the lead academics have been chased away, who do you think will suffer the most? I can tell you it will not be the rich white children, they will be able to make use of the remaining Universities or go overseas, the people who will be left in the dirt will once again be poor black students… Its a tragic situation.

    Yet no Fees must Fall people seem to grasp that violence, mob mentality and disregard for fellow students is literally going to fuck over poor black students the most… When government can give SAA R10 Billion rand at the drop of a hat, but cant give anything to students who have destroyed so much, what makes you think that at the end of the day Government will just hand over the money and re build everything? They wont, and what is left for poor black students will be ashes.

    You dont have to look very hard, it is a leaderless movement, “students were told to leave the space for going behind the movement’s back to negotiate with management without consulting the mass movement itself. ” What this leads to is the “shifting of the goal posts”, the demands will constantly change and have to be renegotiated as leaders are kicked out and replaced. With out a core group of leadership there is no hope of ever achieving anything.

    That is not simply an opinion, that is a fact.

    Next you have a bunch of violent students running riot on campus, who at the same time “demand” that all security and police be removed… Its like a child who is home alone destroying the living room and pissing on the bed, then crying that the new baby sitter wont leave him alone, but promises he will behave when she is gone… Not a chance.

    How can people on campus be saying things like this “One of the staff members, a secretary working in the administration building, broke down in tears after seeing what had happened to her car.

    “I don’t understand. I had nothing to do with the students’ issues with the management,” she said.”

    WE WANT FREE EDUCATION< LETS BURN THE SECRETARIES CAR, FUCK HER!! makes sense.

    This week, protesting students threatened other students with violence should they return to classes, total disrespect for anyone. But I bet it takes a real genius to see why there needs to be millions spent on security, cant possibly figure that one out!

    Fees must fall is a doomed movement, lacking any sort of leadership with a high propensity to violence and destruction by fire. Yet there are still some people who think that this path is the best way to solve the obvious problems and shortfalls in education.

    I predict in 5 years time, there will be less black graduates who have access to university, and #FMF will land up creating an even wider economic gap between rich and poor. The rich will get educated regardless, but the poor will have worse universities that lack everything that FMF have so far destroyed. Books, computers, lecture halls, res buildings, academic staff, and so on and so on…

    At least the writers at thedailyvox will have something interesting to scratch their heads about till then…

    Perhaps Fees Must Fall was created by White Monopoly Capital in order to destroy any hope of poor black children ever getting educated though the literal destruction of public universities and thus decreasing the competition in the work force enabling the white minority to remain the most skilled demographic in South Africa. That makes more sense to me!

  2. Henry Price Jr. says

    comrades it is most inappropriate to turn a movement for free higher education into a war you all are guaranteed to lose. All schools desire a safe plus secure learning environment thus should upgrade security to any level necessary to maintain order. Unfortunately matter of movement to alter fees will succumb to higher priority of to become a fight against violent criminality by those supporting free higher education thus, is likely plus should destroy many of violent offenders career opportunities. Their senseless actions are counterproductive plus exhibit spoil child attitude that do not plus should not work where security plus order is of issue in higher education. Please! students quickly find you way to taking right non violent actions? Very much sincere, Henry price Jr. aka Obediah Buntu IL-Khan aka Kankan aka Gue.

    1. ben says

      Its not about free education anymore, its about destruction and getting a free pass from writing exams.

  3. CK Berg says

    Many thanks to Mr Abdulla for this balanced account of the current state of affairs at CPUT. What many readers, commentators and general observers don’t seem to realise is that the militarisation of the university ‘s campus is largely an attempt to prevent serious issues of corruption from reaching the public eye. Apart from the misguided action of a small group of firebrand activists the demands made by the broader student body are entirely reasonable. One needs to question the university’s reluctance to hold a full assembly, in order to address serious outstanding, unresolved issues and unfair practices there, of which there certainly are many. It is foolish to expect university life to carry on as normal with the presence of highly militarised vehicles and personnel on campuses. It is also wishful thinking to expect that campus life will return to normal while the university’s administration remains embroiled in corrupt activity, as was shown during the reign of it’s now disgraced vc. Note that it was predominantly students who initially raised issues of malpractice , which the university management itself found to be non existent. Almost a year later it was up to an an independent moderator to set the record straight. Precisely what the VC was found guilty of has been kept a close secret. There has been no mention of co-conspirators either. Students have raised concerns about the possible theft of bursary funds, very late bursary payouts, deep-seated administrative ineptness and terribly poor service generally, lack of accommodation – after such was confirmed in writing, and forever delays in dealing with real issues already subjected to endless debate and discussions. It cannot be a case of all’s good and well while key matters remain unresolved.

    1. ben says

      There has not yet been any military deployed to any campuses… They are private security, there is a huge difference. It is why the government is not deploying private security to the Cape Flats, but are deploying the actual military. To say that the security on campus is to protect corrupt university administrators and not the campus from being fire bombed is just, I dunno, it is astounding that you believe that.

      1. ben says

        FYI the majority of Universities have attempted to call general assembly’s, but guess what happens? No leadership from FMF, 100s of students all screaming and shouting, then a group starts talking about ‘the land’ (hang on, I thought this was about education? NO ITS ABOUT COLONIALISM!!! NO ITS ABOUT OUT SOURCING!!! NO ITS ABOUT NOT HAVING A FOOD ALLOWANCE!! ) then its 12 hours later and Adam Habib has yet to speak and is still sitting on the floor being screamed at by mobs of angry students who are demanding that he give them all free education…

        These children lack the maturity and self awareness to accomplish a legitimate general assembly.

        1. Mdev says

          Yo Ben, Bend over and f*** yourself. Until you have big black African mf**kers pull up in your room (@12 AM) with guns claiming to be looking for petrol bombs while you’re studying for a paper in the morning, you can shove your comments up your Butthole.

  4. Don Wahl says

    The new norm?? Lol 😂

    Ever since students took it upon themselves to hijack classrooms denying others the opportunity to learn freely, either they group chanting, singing, fire extinguishing, along with invading staff and committee meeting meetings rampaging food, etc to say the least burning, stoning bldgs and personally owned vehicles, this militarism has been on campus. It’s called militant protesting which became the new norm over three years ago. This is what learning and students have had to adjust to long ago. Yet now you write it has become the”new” norm? You appear to have a bias to your perspective whereas the objective filter has failed to engage.

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