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NWU campus closed as violent protests hit varsities

Striking students at North West University Vanderbijlpark Campus blocked the entrance during a violent protest. /Thulani Mbele
Striking students at North West University Vanderbijlpark Campus blocked the entrance during a violent protest. /Thulani Mbele

Student protests are spreading across the country as the SA Union of Students (Saus) intensifies the call for a national shutdown at public universities.

North West University (NWU) in Mahikeng was forced to close as result of violent protests. Yesterday, students were told to vacate the Mahikeng campus and it is not clear when they will return.

Saus announced the national shutdown of public universities on Monday, citing complaints about fees and historical debt.

NWU spokesperson Louis Jacobs confirmed that the students were ordered to leave campus.

"On Monday, a group of senior students assaulted other students and damaged university property. These unacceptable actions were reported to the police and a case of assault has been opened.

"The safety of students and staff on campus is increasingly in jeopardy, so after consultations with relevant stakeholders including SAPS, the management resolved to close the campus until further notice to ensure safety and security," Jacobs said.

He said management was deeply concerned about the incidents of violence.

"In solidarity with the call from the Saus to shut down campuses, a group of students have been preventing people from entering the campus.

"However, today (Tuesday) it has been quiet but we haven't made a call as to when the campus will re-open."

Jacobs said things were normal on its other campuses.

Police spokesperson Col Pelonomi Makau said police were monitoring the situation, while Saus spokesperson Thabo Shingange said it had noted the "reactionary decision" by NWU and will soon release a statement.

He said the University of Venda and Eastern Cape's Walter Sisulu University have also joined the shutdown.

On Monday, registration came to a halt at NWU's Vaal campus. The road leading to the main entrance was barricaded with stones and the main gates were locked.

In KwaZulu-Natal, police, students and security guards engaged in running battles as UKZN students demanded that issues including historical debt be dealt with on Monday.

They were joined by the University of South Africa's (Unisa) Durban campus, who had similar demands.

Mphathi Majola, campus chairperson of the EFF Student Command, the organisation's student wing, said they were protesting against students being asked to pay 15% of the historical debt they owed.

Majola said students did not have money to pay this and so could not register for degrees at undergraduate and postgraduate level. - Additional Reporting Mphathi Nxumalo

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