Melted plastic chairs, broken concrete blocks and other debris littering the floor were a stark reminder of the violent confrontation that took place between students and police this week at the University of KwaZulu-Natal’s Westville campus – but vice-chancellor Malegapuru Makgoba says this is a familiar sight at the beginning of every academic year at the campus.
Not as pragmatic were the members of the student representative council (SRC), headed by Lucky Nkalanga, who said the action by the police was the final straw.
Four students were arrested, among them Nkalanga, who was released from Westville Prison on Thursday and is back on campus. He was charged with assaulting a police officer, though he denied this.
Before his arrest, he spoke to the Tribune. “Above all things right now, we want to highlight the brutality that the police have shown. We have eight of our students hospitalised for injuries inflicted by those police and one of the girls is in a critical state after a policeman sprayed pepper spray into her room. She was asthmatic,” said Nkalanga.
An interdict has been served on the student council by the university to prevent further protests.
Nkalanga said funding remained a key factor in the unrest, and claimed students from rural areas had been denied funding because they were apparently “late for registration”. But there wasn’t an opportunity for late registration at all, which made it impossible for students to access the loans, he said.
Disadvantaged students could get funds if they paid the initial registration fee and had attained 42 points, a basic requirement to study certain courses, but Nkalanga said this was asking too much of some of the more disadvantaged students.
Another issue, he said, was that of accommodation, which was limited.
Makgoba said some of these issues would be resolved once the institution had completed its transition from a campus-based organisation to a college-based one. He also condemned the violence, saying it achieved nothing.