Sixteen students from the Walter Sisulu University’s (WSU) Butterworth campus were released on bail after appearing in the local magistrate court on allegations of arson, public violence, malicious damage to property and unlawful gathering.
Their case was postponed to July 19 for further investigation while bail was set at R500 for each student.
The students appeared before court after they were arrested by police when their strike on campus at Ibika turned violent on Thursday. Students allegedly torched the entrance to the university and dumped refuse around campus using the university’s refuse removal tractors.
Fellow students marched peacefully outside the court but were closely monitored by police.
Unconfirmed reports from the Students’ Representative Council (SRC) claim the campus has been temporarily closed until July 18.
WSU spokesperson Angela Church would neither confirm nor deny the closure of the campus.
“Every effort is being made to ensure that the Butterworth campus can re-open as soon as possible. However, re-scheduled examinations and a commitment from student leadership that the climate will be conducive to completing examinations must be in place before the campus can re-open,” said Church.
On Thursday police responded by firing rubber bullets to disperse a large crowd of students who were throwing stones at them. Police also managed to drive the protesting students out of the university grounds.
Church said students from the Walter Sisulu University Education Students Society sent a list of grievances to the head of department and dean two weeks ago.
“They highlighted a number of detailed issues pertaining to their programme of study which they wished to discuss with management.
“Broadly the issues relate to aspects of teacher training which include provision of meals, stationery, financial allowances and visiting of trainee teachers by WSU staff,” said Church.
Among the students’ complaints contained in the memorandum was that all learnership students must be entitled to meals and that their laptops be paid in full not later than Friday.
Students said stationery for the learnership students should be ordered immediately and all Level 4 students in the faculty of education be given a stipend of R3200 per tranche (three months) to use when they go away to schools for practical teaching.
Church said the stipend was paid on the evening of June 1.
“On Wednesday June 1 this group of students disrupted examinations taking place at the Butterworth campus. Police and additional security were called in.
“The situation got worse the following day as students embarked upon a destructive action at the Butterworth Campus. Police were called in again.”
An SRC member, who cannot be named for fear of victimisation, said the student body tried all day and night on Friday to have arrested students freed.
“We raised R8000 but I cannot divulge where it came from.
We used the money to bail out the 16 students,” said the SRC member.
Students who originate far from Butterworth slept in the town hall on Thursday and Friday, while 40 others slept in a house in town. The house was allegedly provided by the Eastern Cape legislature member, Noluthando Gqiba.