A second-year student at NMMU who was arrested early yesterday after a public road leading to the north campus was blocked has been charged under new legislation and released on R200 bail.
The road blockage was linked to varsity protests.
It involved a group setting tyres alight and blocking the entrance to the university.
This is the first time in Nelson Mandela Bay that any protester has been charged under the legislation, which was signed into law by President Jacob Zuma in December.
The new Criminal Matters Amendment Act aims to impose harsher sentences for anyone caught stealing or vandalising essential infrastructure.
Second-year BA student Mpumzi Ndzonda, 22, was formally charged in the Port Elizabeth Magistrate’s Court only hours after he was held. The case was postponed to December 14.
In terms of the new legislation, Ndzonda had to go to court to get bail as the tough new law prohibits the police from releasing a suspect.
The decision to charge protesters who damage any form of infrastructure – including roads – was taken after police top brass consulted with their legal affairs department over the weekend.
The law can result in anyone convicted of damaging any infrastructure facing up to 30 years in jail or fines of up to R100-million.
Previously, students were charged with public violence and, in most cases, released at the police station with a warning to appear in court.
The new development comes two weeks after nine students were arrested for contravening the national Road Traffic Act and public violence legislation.
They were released on R50 bail. Police spokesman Colonel Priscilla Naidu said Ndzonda was one of a very small group of students who had barricaded University Way at 5am.
“Due to the recent spate of incidents involving universities, a police surveillance team was posted nearby to monitor the area.The entire incident was videotaped.”
Naidu said that as police approached, the group ran away. Ndzonda is believed to have set barricaded tyres alight.
“He was arrested on the scene,” she said.
Due to the damage to the road surface, Naidu said a stance to enforce the new infrastructure act had been decided upon.
“A decision by management was taken to enforce the newly introduced legislation that deals with damage to essential infrastructure and the effect it has on basic services.”
Ndzonda said his arrest unfolded as a group were coming from a night vigil at the Embizweni building on the south campus.
The #Asinamali vigil was held on Sunday night in preparation for the outcome of a planned imbizo between students, stakeholders and the president yesterday, Ndzonda said.
“We arrived just after sunrise and the police had not arrived. “We were singing and waiting for our [colleagues] and then a police officer came and asked what we were doing. “We said we were continuing with the shutdown.”
Ndzonde said the police officer came back with six others and peacefully escorted him to a van.
The students spent the day at the New Law Courts in support of their comrade and were happy to see him after his release as they embraced him and sang struggle songs.
Sociology student Qhama Zondani said the students would not be deterred, describing the arrest as a scare tactic aimed at intimidating protesters.
NMMU spokeswoman Debbie Derry said the university remained committed to completing the academic programme for 2016.
Lectures at the university are suspended indefinitely.