Walter Sisulu University (WSU) vice-chancellor Marcus Balintulo on Friday urged staff and students to return to the Mthatha campus on Monday following a week of upheaval there.
The Nelson Mandela Drive campus of the university was effectively shut down for the past two weeks, following protests that led to buses being torched and a building set ablaze on the campus on Wednesday.
“A breakaway group of students at the campus have been protesting at the campus since September 2, but things turned ugly on Wednesday,” university spokesperson Angela Church told the Mail & Guardian.
“Two buses were torched and a minibus was also damaged and on the same day someone gained access to the executive dining room and set fire to it. We cannot say who was responsible at this stage.”
Police were called in, and more than 200 students were arrested and released on bail after appearing in court on Thursday.
Church said WSU regulations permit students to write only one set of supplementary exams per year; and that some students want the university to introduce a second round of supplementary exams, to be written before the September graduation ceremonies. They also want WSU to change the rule that limits the number of times students can rewrite exams on the same course before being prohibited from continuing.
“A meeting last Friday with the elected SRC and other role players agreed that both issues would be reviewed,” Church said.
“However these things take time and the breakaway group of students did not accept the resolution and the riots continued.”
Balintulo had obtained a court order to shut the campus down last week, but the students successfully challenged it in court and classes were meant to continue this week. But university management advised staff to stay away from the campus for their own safety.
Higher Education South Africa has condemned the violence of the protests. CEO Duma Malaza said in a statement on Friday that the protesting students “showed a disregard for their present homes [and] jeopardised the possibility for future students to access higher education”.
“Burning down busses and setting fire to a dining room is, in effect, destroying their own home for the period of their studies and is the further destruction of an already compromised infrastructure,” he said.
“The protest is predicated on a misperception that the vice-chancellor has complete control over how an institution is governed.
“This assumption is simply wrong and completely negates the decision-making roles of senate, of council and the fact that all institutions are committed to transparent and good governance,” he added.