Tensions rise at UKZN as building set alight

Hundreds of students protesting at university over historical debt

Tensions rise at UKZN as building set alight while hundreds of students protest

29 January 2020

Student protests over historical debt have erupted at two University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN) campuses on Wednesday morning and has led to the suspension of registration for the new year.

Police spokesperson Brigadier Jay Naicker said students gathered on the Howard campus and disrupted registration points at about 07:00.

"They forced other students to join them. The crowd grew to around 1 000 students. They moved to Princess Alice Street and set DSW (Durban Solid Waste) bins on fire on the road. Registration has been suspended. The situation is tense. There has been slight damage to UKZN property."

He said police were monitoring the protests and would "take appropriate action when protesters commit crime".

Naicker also reported that security officials at the Westville campus spotted around 600 students approaching the security officers' building at around 01:00.

"They were seen carrying petrol bombs and stones. The security guards fled the scene and returned a short while later to find the security officers' building set on fire."

Police deployed public order policing units, as well as the fire department to the scene.

"The suspects fled the scene prior to the police's arrival. A case of arson and public violence is being investigated."

University spokesperson Ashton Bodrick denounced the protests as "wanton criminal behaviour". He said security staff and police worked tirelessly to safeguard the university community.

"Despite their best efforts, a grave act of arson was committed in the early hours of this morning when the risk management services building (security control centre) on the Westville campus was set alight and burnt," Bodrick said on Wednesday.

He said the incident was compounded by a power outage throughout the campus that started on Tuesday afternoon.

"Power has since been restored on the campus.

"Inasmuch as we respect the students' right to protest, there is no excuse for any act of violence and damage/destruction of valuable university resources and property."

Bodrick said university's risk management services and the police were investigating the incident.

"Perpetrators found engaging in criminal behaviour will be arrested and apprehended."

The protests are part of a national student drive to have their debt scrapped so that they can register for the new academic year.

The University of SA campus in Durban has also been affected. Registration came to a halt on Monday.