/ 12 February 2015

Protesting TUT students clash with security guards

Recent protests at the Tshwane University of Technology
Recent protests at the Tshwane University of Technology

Five students at the Soshanguve North campus of the Tshwane University of Technology (TUT) were treated for teargas inhalation on Thursday, as protests over financial exclusions continued.

The teargas was allegedly thrown at a group of students by private security guards contracted by the institution. There appeared to be running battles between the guards and students, who numbered in the thousands. The groups of students were separated by police.

Student protests erupted at the township-based campus last week over insufficient funding from the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS).

TUT said there were reports of incidents at the Ga-Rankuwa and eMalahleni campuses as well.

Monitoring the situation
TUT’s student representative council estimates that more than 20 000 returning students across the university’s six campuses have been excluded, a predicament compounded by NSFAS’s decision to cut allocations to the institution. It enrols more than 54 000 students each year.

NSFAS allocated R463-million to TUT this year, down from R633-million in 2014. The scheme said it did not have sufficient money to fund each qualifying student at the country’s 26 universities.

The Mail & Guardian witnessed paramedics treating and stabilising the injured students at Soshanguve. One female student was taken to the local hospital.

The police maintained a heavy presence on campus. Constable Reneilwe Makwalo said they were “not here for arrests, just to monitor the situation and ensure things do not go out of control”.

Armed guards
On the motives for protest, Makwalo said: “The students are striking over NSFAS funds. Their results for last year have been blocked; hence they cannot register for this year.

“So, due to the NSFAS [funding] problem they are striking. They are violent because they are fighting campus security guards and there are students who have inhaled teargas. As you can see, paramedics are attending [to] them on the scene.”

Tsholofelo Modise, the president of the SRC, claimed security guards attacked female students at their residence without any provocation.

“When grown men armed with guns and gas canisters go into a female residence and open gas canisters, what happens if students suffocate and die?

“I’m not sure whether they were evicting students or what they were thinking, but in my opinion it was ill-advised. You disperse a crowd. You do not go where people are residing and throw teargas at them when they come out. This was not dispersing a crowd.”

No money for meals
Modise confirmed the SRC and management had not yet reached an agreement on how the protest would be resolved. The SRC is demanding that students who were funded by NSFAS in 2014, but were left out this year, be allowed to register without any upfront payment.

It also wants the meal allowance of all funded students to be increased to R700 a month, from the current R400. But, in a response the M&G has seen, the university told the SRC such an increase on meals would “add an amount of R42-million, and that will deplete NSFAS funds quicker and fewer students will be assisted. Levies for 2015 are already fixed”.

On the demand for registration of students excluded by NSFAS, the university told the SRC this group had to pay a percentage of their outstanding debt.

Money for security
Said Modise: “Management is claiming not to have money, but to everybody’s surprise these gentlemen [security guards] are being paid R500 an hour each. That is what the company is billing the university.

“They don’t have money to send students to school, but they have money to pay security companies. At least last year management gave students a loan, which they will repay after graduating.

“When you’re taking your money and investing it on security services, when that service is finished, do you get any returns on investment? It does not speak sense to me.”

TUT’s spokesperson, Willa de Ruyter, would not comment on allegations that contracted security guards attacked students with teargas. “I don’t have details about what happened there. I’m waiting for campus security services to send me the reports and then I can comment on it.”

She said classes had been suspended at three of TUT’s six campuses because of protests on Thursday. “Management has decided to suspend academic activities at Soshanguve North and South, Ga-Rankuwa and Mbombela campuses. There was violent protest [action] at all these campuses. We need to be able to ensure the safety of staff and students and property.

“We have sent a message to students requesting them to [vacate] residences without delays, for their own safety.”

University of KwaZulu-Natal protests
Meanwhile, protests erupted on three of the University of KwaZulu-Natal’s campuses on Thursday, with at least one person ending up in hospital and another arrested.

University spokesperson Lesiba Seshoka said protests were staged at the university’s Westville and Edgewood campuses in Durban, as well as the Pietermaritzburg campus.

Police spokesperson Colonel Jay Naicker said a case of public violence had been opened.

He said that a 24-year-old student had been apprehended by the university’s security and was expected to appear in the Pinetown magistrate’s court once he had been charged.

“SAPS, university risk management services and the public order policing are present and monitoring the situation on campus and continuing to disperse the protesters.

“We are unaware of the reasons for the protests as these students have not raised their concerns through the correct channels.”

He said meetings were being held with the student representative council in a bid to resolve the situation.

Lectures had not been formally suspended by the university, but some lectures were cancelled by academics as a response to the disruption. – Additional reporting by Sapa