Police disperse students as protests turn violent

Violent clashes between police, a private security company and protesting students erupted outside the Mangosuthu University of Technology in Umlazi as the protest action entered its third day yesterday.

While police say they did not use anything besides water canons to disperse the protesters, students and staff who got caught up in the crossfire allege that shots were fired by the police, but could not say whether these were real or rubber bullets.

One staff member who asked to remain anonymous for fear of victimisation by the university, described how a minibus full of police stopped in front of her and started “shooting randomly”, despite the presence of other road users.

SAPs spokesman Lieutenant-Colonel Vincent Mdunge said the protest was held despite a court interdict banning it. The public order police were only called in after the crowd, which swelled from 200 to 500, began blockading the Mangosuthu Highway – the main access to Umlazi.

He confirmed that police used water to disperse the crowd but rejected allegations that they used live rounds of ammunition and rubber bullets.

The students, who have been protesting since Monday, said this was the only way they could get the university’s executive management to engage with them.

They are unhappy that a list of grievances contained in a petition dating back to February has not yet been addressed.

Third-year student Mthokozisi Nxumalo said they had to contend with substandard transport, the poor conditions of their residences, and not being allowed to buy expensive textbooks with the money from the financial aid scheme.

According to Bheki Hlope, a universityspokesman, the only way the executive management would engage with the protesters was if they raised their issues through the SRC. But the students who spoke to The Mercury said that the SRC had no part in the protests.

An official communique from vice-chancellor Professor Mashupye Kgaphola’s office yesterday said the management met the SRC on Tuesday, and they (SRC) had distanced themselves from the protest action.

It further stated that five students had been suspended, and that the “management wishes to assure all students and staff that we are doing everything in our power and within the law to protect the interests of the university, including its core functions and the safety of its staff.

“We wish to underscore once again that the management has never issued a decree against democratic and peaceful demonstrations on campus.

“We are therefore calling any aggrieved party to approach management through the channels that are already available in the university”.


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