Little disruption at universities despite Sasco threat

A Sasco vow to shut down 9 universities did not materialise today, with little disruption to classes despite attempts at the University of Johannesburg to block students from entering the campus.

The SA Students Congress (Sasco) on Wednesday said it would shut down operations on campuses countrywide in protest action to demand free education.

Apart from morning protests at the University of Johannesburg, where entrances to the Bunting road campus were barricaded with stones and burnt items, no serious disruptions were reported at any of the nine tertiary institutions.

“Academic and student activities continued as usual,” said UJ registrar professor Marie Muller in a statement. “This morning, a group of students barricaded the access points to the Bunting road campus.

However, the entry points were cleared and the situation is under control,” she said around 2pm. The police used a water tanker to spray students on several occasions at UJ on Thursday morning after they tried to block an entrance.

Former Student Representative Council president Mhlobo Hoyi said they were not just demanding free education, but also wanted more support for students who failed their first year studies. “We have many students who were turned away this year because they failed, we want more support for them. It’s not entirely their fault that they failed. The education system is very poor,” he said.

Sasco president Mbulelo Mandlana said all protests were peaceful and condemned “reports of unwarranted police brutality at the University of Johannesburg”. He said there were reports of “pepper spraying and water spraying” and denied that protesters put burning items in front of some entrances, as was reported by police spokeswoman Captain Julia Claassen.

Mandlana confirmed that Sasco members barricaded entrances but said it did not necessitate the “force” the police used. He said he could confirm that protests had taken place at UJ, Durban University of Technology, University of Zululand, Walter Sisulu University, Tshwane University of Technology and the Cape Peninsula University for Technology.

All protests were calm, said Mandlana, a statement that was confirmed by police spokespeople in several provinces, excluding the UJ demonstrations. Sasco on Wednesday said it would also protest at the University of Venda, University of Limpopo and University of Western Cape but there were no reports of protests at these institutions on Thursday. TUT spokesman Gilbert Mokwatedi said classes continued as usual at all its campuses.

“It has been business as usual,” Mokwatedi told Sapa. “We didn’t have any problems. People were just going on with their normal business.”

Education department spokeswoman Ranjeni Munusamy said the government could not condone violent protests. “We were informed up to late yesterday [Wednesday] that these protests would be peaceful demonstrations… “We were not aware of any intention to barricade entrances and to prevent students from entering campuses. “While we are sympathetic to the call for free education, we do not support any violence on campuses or disruption to the academic programme,” said Munusamy.

Sasco is planning to stage a march to Parliament in Cape Town on Friday. Students said they were unhappy because President Jacob Zuma paid little attention to education in his state of the nation address.

Mandlana said Sasco wanted to put pressure on the government as more than 135,000 students were not at tertiary institutions because of financial constraints.

Asked where he got the 135,000 figure from, Mandlana said it was a “rough estimation” based on the number of matriculants who passed last year but who did not register at tertiary institutions.

According to statistics released by Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga in January, 93,356 matriculants qualified for higher certificate studies, while another 131,035 qualified for diploma studies. Mandlana said an estimated 100,000 matriculants had registered for tertiary studies countrywide this year.

Source: sowetan online, 20100305

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