Row over protests breaks out among student bodies

DAY TWO: Students take part in continuing protest action at NMMU yesterday Picture: EUGENE COETZEE
DAY TWO: Students take part in continuing protest action at NMMU yesterday

One group says it is all about elections; other says it’s fees

As students at NMMU embarked on a second day of protest to demand free tertiary education, the Student Representative Council (SRC) said yesterday the protest was nothing but political point scoring by SA Students’ Congress (Sasco) members ahead of next month’s SRC elections.

But Sasco rejected the claim, saying the protests were all about slashing fees. SRC president Nicholas Nyathi said Sasco was using the protest to campaign ahead of elections, expected to take place between September 14 and 28.

Yesterday morning, more than 300 students, mostly affiliated to Sasco, blocked all access points leading to NMMU’s north and south campuses.

In doing this, Nyathi said, Sasco had ignored a call by the SA Union of Students (SAUS) to wait for feedback from the government regarding possible fee increases for next year.

“Sasco is campaigning,” Nyathi said. “They are shutting down the university even though students want to write tests this week. “It is a situation where 150 people are holding the entire institution to ransom.

“We want to write our tests and graduate. This small group of students is delaying our dreams,” Nyathi said.

According to Nyathi, SAUS released a statement on Tuesday instructing universities that there would be no shutdown. Despite this, a Walter Sisulu University protest proceeded.

“I asked the president at WSU why they were marching and he said it was due to institutional matters like residency and lecturers.

“On Tuesday, NMMU called a meeting with Sasco to ask why they were shutting down the university and they said it was due to the fees issue.

“Sasco was told that SAUS had called off the shutdown but they said they would continue.”

According to Nyathi, he approached students at the entrance to the south campus yesterday morning where he was attacked by five Sasco members.

“These are the same students who assaulted me and then received a suspended sentence. “I will definitely open a case against them. We still want the government to finance a 0% increase for next year.

“We still want free education for the poor. #FeesMustFall will always be an issue until this goal is realised, but we need the government to address this problem. “The government is the problem, not our university,” he said.

Sasco representative and student activist Siviwe Ngaba, who led the protests and shutdown at NMMU over the past two days, rubbished the allegations of the protests being an excuse for electioneering.

Asked whether Sasco knew SAUS had called off the shutdown, Ngaba said SAUS was an organisation which governed SRCs and had nothing to do with Sasco.

“The call would be to SRCs and what we are doing has nothing to do with SAUS. “It [the shutdown] was a call by provincial Sasco. SAUS can never tell Sasco what to do,” Ngaba said.

SAUS president Avela Mjajubana said he had heard about an ongoing protests at NMMU but would need to verify details with Nyathi before commenting on the matter.

Meanwhile, the university said it was aware of a voice note circulated yesterday.

In the audio clip, an unidentified male speaker is heard saying anyone entering the NMMU south campus would be killed, with faint clapping in the background NMMU spokeswoman Zandile Mbabela said the university was investigating the source and veracity of the message, which she described as “very threatening and hateful”.

An appropriate sanction would be meted out on conclusion of the investigation.

Ngaba denied claims that the voice note had been recorded during a Sasco meeting held at the SRC chambers on south campus on Tuesday night.

Sasco provincial chairman Lufefe Mkutu, who addressed the meeting on Tuesday, said the voice note was “not funny” and he was “highly angry about it”.

AfriForum Port Elizabeth vicechairman and Nelson Mandela Bay Ratepayers’ Association chairman Kobus Gerber said he would open a case of intimidation at the Humewood police station against the person who created the voice clip.

Several students turned away at the gates expressed their frustration, saying they wanted to write their tests.

Meanwhile, Mbabela said academics would advise students regarding missed tests.

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