The Grahamstown High Court has interdicted Walter Sisulu University students at the Komani campuses from damaging or stealing university property, assaulting staff or students, and unlawfully disrupting academic or administrative activity.
The university already has a similar interdict against students at its Mthatha campus, which has been shut down following mass protests that the university says culminated in the fatal stabbing of one of its medical students.
According to court papers, staff had fled two Komani (formerly Queenstown) campuses in fear for their lives. The university says the interdicts became necessary following protests at many of WSU’s campuses against the poor regulation of the National Students Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS), which has hindered students accessing funding.
Students allegedly torched a university vehicle and a section of the administration block at its Komani campuses this week.
WSU registrar Khaya Maphinda said in an affidavit that the students’ anger was directed against NSFAS, an external entity over which the university had no influence or control. However, their expression of anger was against the university, its staff and its property.
He said the situation was volatile and without the interdict, the university feared further damage to property and loss of life.
Maphinda named SRC president Babalo Sawe and secretary-general Uko Ntikinca as the protest leaders.
He said they had started the protests without first trying to resolve the issues with WSU’s student affairs department. He said Sawe had closed the university library and, together with Ntikinca, had intimidated women staff members and forced them out of their offices.
They had also whipped up emotions at the Whittlesea campus and students had gone on a rampage, burning tyres, chasing security staff and torching the guard station at the main entrance.
Staff members had been locked up in the admin section and police were called to free them. Later, students had burnt a car and a car port on campus, broken windows and lit tyres close to the diesel-powered generators on campus.
Management had decided to close the campus as they feared more property would be damaged.
They also wanted to avoid any injury or loss of life as had happened at the Mthatha campus.
Maphinda said police were not acting against students destroying property on campus as they said the students had a right to be there despite its closure. The interdict was therefore necessary.
The university’s attorney, Angus Pringle, said the matter was urgent as SRC leaders had threatened to burn down the campuses if demands were not met. Students have until June 27 to show why the order should not be made final.