The mood was sombre at the University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN) this week following violent protests on campus. There was no assurance that management would respond to their demands but still, students showed a united front, writes ZILUNGILE MNISI.
I had never gone to UKZN’s Westville campus until the day I was asked to go there to cover a protest.
This year, students protesting against changes to the requirements for receiving financial aid from the National Students Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) blocked roads around the campus, set vehicles alight and petrol bombed the administration building.
Management at the university called in the police to deal with the protestors. The university had planned on shutting all residences until 27 September, but backtracked on the decision after staff and students petitioned them to keep residences open so that students could attend to their academic obligations.
When I got to campus on Tuesday, I didn’t see the running battles with police and security guards I’d expected. There was no strike in sight, and the security guards, referred to as Red Ants because of their black and red uniforms, stood guard over the damaged buildings and the two cars that were burnt by students.
Lessons had been indefinitely suspended so students had no reason to be on campus. Some students, who live in the campus residences, stood around in small groups, discussing the scenes before them.
A woman drove by in her car and I heard her ask, of no one in particular, “What are they doing to our beautiful buildings?”
Some students sat on campus benches, looking dejected. Perhaps they were wondering what would happen to their education if they were to lose their financial aid, or maybe they were just wondering how they would ever catch up on the classes and tests missed.
“I had to write two tests this week and I have already missed out on one this week” said Silindokuhle Nkosi, a first year biological sciences student.
Nkosi was caught between a rock and a hard place – as much as she believed that the students were within their rights to protest, she was still missing out on getting the education that her parents had sent her to university to acquire.
One would be mistaken in thinking that only those students who are funded by NSFAS are supporting the strike, but it isn’t the case.
I came across students who are not on financial aid and who are not concerned by the rise in the registration fees but who shared the sentiments of their fellow students – why should the rules suddenly be changed and people who thought their studies would be paid for suddenly be thrown under the bus?
I admired their unity.