Three students at the University of Limpopo (UL) were arrested on Tuesday following violent clashes with private security.
“The private security teargassed students who were throwing stones at them to disperse them,” said Kgalema Mohuba, spokesperson for the university. “The university management called the police to help us to create stability on campus.”
— Kgalema Mohuba (@MohubaKgalema) September 27, 2016
Chairperson of the University of Limpopo Political Writers Society, Isaac Mahlangu, said students took it upon themselves to join protests against the cost of university tuition.
“As a result, classes were suspended on Monday and Tuesday pending a statement from the university management regarding fees. The statement was rejected by the leading students because it suggested they were going to pay whatever the university resolved on fee increments,” he said.
He added however, that elements within the protest were taking advantage of the situation for their own political ends.
“I would say politically affiliated students are using this opportunity as a canvas mechanism because SRC elections are one week away,” Mahlangu said.
University of limpopo with more than 70% Poor students we are the most affected by the fees but SA doesn’t care we are not wits #ULShutdown
— Shandu Van Niekerk (@shanduVanN) September 27, 2016
Tensions at the university were exacerbated by routine power cuts by Eskom Polokwane on Tuesday. The electricity supply was due to be restored at 9:30pm, but was only restored two hours later.
“That has got nothing to do with the university. We were equally frustrated with the absence of security in a volatile situation,” Mohuba said.
There was also commotion at the residences on Tuesday night when a bin was set alight in one of the laundry rooms. The fire was extinguished and nothing was damaged.
Later reports from eNCA show that a residence was also damaged by fire.
— Nickolaus Bauer (@NickolausBauer) September 28, 2016
Mahlangu, however, alleges that some of those who clashed with private security were not in fact students themselves.
“Some protesters are aggrieved students and others are not, they are ordinary members of the community who saw an opportunity to advance their own agenda,” he said. “Students took this opportunity to voice their demands but there is an intrusion of criminal elements within the body that wants to hijack a genuine cause to advance a sinister one.”
He stresses that students initiated the clashes with security.
“What has not been said is that students had incited the violence themselves,” Mahlangu said.
“The private security were trying to control the situation because they feared that the protest could escalate because there was no electricity. This is when a few leaders of the protest were arrested by campus security because the students refused to disperse.The students threw stones at the security before the chaos arose. When they regrouped they resorted to vandalising the new innovation building. Windows were broken and furniture was thrown around.”
One of the protesting students, Julius Matlabane, Secretary General of the EFFSC at the university told the Daily Vox that students are united in solidarity for free education.
“The private security riot police was here trying to shoot us because there was a gathering of students by the square. Some students were shot at and had tear gas thrown in their res rooms. We don’t know where to hide at this point because if they can come into our rooms, how can we protect ourselves?”
What happened at university of limpopo yesterday is really sad. Police shot at us while we sitting on the balcony doing nothing #ULshutdown
— Ricky Tan (@Boss_Pablo_) September 27, 2016
On Tuesday night, reports circulated that two students were killed in the clashes, but Brigadier Motlafela Mojapelo told The Daily Vox that no deaths or injuries had been reported to the police.
The university denies that residences were teargassed. On Wednesday, classes were disrupted as many students did not attend class and others continued protesting. Shortly thereafter, the university released a statement suspending all academic activities indefinitely.
— Shandu Van Niekerk (@shanduVanN) September 28, 2016