CPUT in court bid to halt unrest

CPUT students protest under the banner of the #FeesMustFall movement. This year, protesting students have been interdicted for 'violent' activity (Gallo)

CPUT students protest under the banner of the #FeesMustFall movement. This year, protesting students have been interdicted for 'violent' activity (Gallo)

The Cape Peninsula University of Technology (CPUT) has approached the high court for an interdict to stop students from disrupting its activities, damaging property, and harassing and intimidating staff as violent protest action enters its second month.

Despite an interim interdict issued on September 1, violent protests have continued, with a number of university buildings torched.

Just last week, a lecture hall was set alight at the Cape Town campus, a staffroom and a canteen were burned down at the Mowbray campus, and a financial aid office was set alight at the Bellville campus. Prior to that, other buildings had been torched and cars damaged.

The court case will pit the university against its students, four of whom were suspended after the interim order was issued: Ayakha Magxothwa, Sivuyise Nolusu, Neo Mongale and Lukhanyo Vanqa.

Acting vice-chancellor Professor Chris Nhlapo said in court documents that the university’s troubles started in August, when an administration building at the Cape Town campus was evacuated after a group of protesting students forced their way into the building and released fire extinguishers.

“Before they could be evacuated, staff members were sprayed with the fire extinguishers,” reads his affidavit. The campus was shutting down and employees said they were “traumatised”.

Nhlapo said he was told that the students were protesting in support of Magxothwa, who was facing a disciplinary charge following complaints laid against him by staff members. He said, to avoid further chaos, the charges against the student had been dropped.

But days later, students raised their concern about a lack of accommodation, leading to a university council meeting being disrupted and council members being “verbally attacked and insulted”.

Nhlapo said that, on the day when students disrupted the council meeting, Vanqa had said “that I have fraudulent qualifications and that my PhD must be investigated as I am like [former SABC chief operating officer] Hlaudi Motsoeneng, that the chairperson of the council [Nogolide Nojozi] is linked to the [Cyril] Ramaphosa faction of the ANC and that her aim is to use the university resources to campaign for this faction”.

Council members were “held hostage by the students”, and students stormed the CPUT library, “took over” and told everyone to vacate.

In another incident, protesting students disrupted an examination and “tore up answer books of students writing exams”.

The same week, on August 28, students started a fire by burning tyres in the multipurpose hall on the Cape Town campus where files containing documents were destroyed, as were items of furnitures and the structure of the building was damaged.

Nhlapo said even though most students had found accommodation, the protesting students were hell-bent on causing disruptions at the university until all the students had been housed.

“I’m of the view that the perpetrators, led by the first and fourth respondents, will not stop until each and every student who is allegedly homeless has been housed, regardless of whether the applicant is in a position to house them or not,” said Nhlapo in court documents.

He also described how a security guard was seriously injured when students threw rocks at him that caused head injuries during a violent protest on August 31. The security guard had to be admitted to hospital.

In a supplementary affidavit, Nhlapo said the fresh tensions arose after the suspension of the four students.

The incidents included burning down buildings using petrol bombs, disrupting classes and threatening staff members and other students.

On September 11, during a disruption by 20 students at the Cape Town campus, students grabbed a shotgun from a security guard and the firearm has still not been recovered, he said.

The following day, a group of students at the Cape Town campus pulled mattresses out of a residence and set them alight, allegedly in an attempt to set one of the university buildings on fire.

Stephen Harrison of Michael Jennings Attorneys, which is representing the “CPUT four”, said the students were opposing the application and that the firm was currently in the process of filing answering affidavits.

Nhlapo said the university believed the 2017 academic programme could continue if there were no further disruptions, but that the December graduation ceremonies were unlikely to take place.

The case is scheduled to be heard on October 12. 

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