Police in Grahamstown have arrested 11 Rhodes University students on various charges after they allegedly violated a court interdict which barred them from taking part in protests on campus.
“Anyone who threatens, intimidates or prohibits lectures from taking place is breaking that interdict,” Captain Luvuyo Mjekula said.
“Today the students were found to be disrupting lectures. That was basically threatening other people. Police had to respond on the basis of that.”
Students reportedly protested peacefully on campus on Wednesday morning in solidarity with other students across the country who are calling for free higher education.
They reportedly made their way around campus singing and mobilising others to join them.
According to a master’s student who asked to remain anonymous, police officers entered campus and arrested four students during a law lecture in the presence of their lecturer around 10.30am to 11am.
Rubber bullets fired
According to Mjekula, five students were arrested on campus after police were called in to remove them because they were disrupting the lecture.
According to the student, after news of the groups’ arrest spread, students boycotted lectures and began making their way around campus trying to get others to join them.
The students were met by a heavy police contingent across the Drostdy lawns on Somerset Street.
Footage from campus newspaper, Oppidan Press, shows police firing rubber bullets at students several metres away from them, behind a wall near the lawns.
When a passer-by asks one of the police officers why they are firing at the students the officer responds by saying some of the students were carrying rocks and bottles which may harm members of the public and that the police are trying to protect them.
During the unrest police arrested another six students who were being processed at the Grahamstown police station on Wednesday evening.
They would face various charges including malicious damage to property, public violence, violating a court interdict as well as contravening the Gatherings Act, Mjekula said.
There was no longer any police presence in or around the campus and the atmosphere had since calmed down, he said.
The High Court interdict prohibits protesters on campus from interfering with other students or academic activities, academic or administrative staff at the university as well as disrupting the Rhodes residence system.
It also prohibits students from damaging any Rhodes property or causing unlawful damage to the university’s reputation.
The interdict also explicitly prohibits certain crimes against members of the Rhodes University community including kidnapping, assaulting, threatening, intimidating or otherwise interfering with the free movement, bodily integrity and psychological well-being and any other constitutional rights of any members of the Rhodes University community on campus. – News24