The academic programme at the Durban University of Technology (DUT) has been suspended until further notice, the institution’s vice chancellor, professor Thandwa Mthembu, said in an emailed statement late on Monday night.
“The Executive Committee of Senate at DUT has decided to suspend the academic programme at all five DUT campuses in Durban until further notice. The academic programme at the two campuses in Pietermaritzburg will continue as normal,” said Mthembu.
He said the decision was reached following renewed student protests on Monday while management and the Student Representative Council (SRC) were meeting over demands made by the SRC. The suspension of the academic programme was “disappointing”, he said, but the institution was not willing to jeopardise the safety and security of staff and students.
“The threats made by certain members of the SRC has to be taken seriously, especially following the levels of violence that we have witnessed two weeks ago and the challenges faced by some of our sister universities today,” said Mthembu, presumably a reference to on-campus incidents at the Mangosuthu University of Technology in uMlazi, during which several protesting students were arrested for public violence.
Classes were set to resume at DUT on Monday morning following a suspension of the academic programme two weeks ago. That suspension followed the death of student Mlungisi Madonsela, who was shot by private security contracted to the university and later died in hospital.
Madonsela was part of a group of about 30 students – armed with rocks and bricks – that tried to storm an administration building just off the Steve Biko campus. A female DUT staff member was also injured in the violence – she had her nose broken when a student allegedly flung a brick at her. The woman was hospitalised. The students, along with others at tertiary education institutions, were protesting sub-standard accommodation, funding problems and other issues.
The SRC has been meeting periodically with management following the incident, however, on Sunday, a planned meeting had to be abandoned because only a couple of SRC members attended, some arriving late.
Mthembu said that while DUT increased security at the institution on Monday, classes were still disrupted and staff and students intimidated.
“[T]he protestors violated the rights of others by publicly issuing threats against members of the DUT community”.
In their own statement issued over the weekend, the SRC leader, who also leads the Economic Freedom Fighters Student Command (EFFSC), said it was not true that the parties had agreed to resume lectures on Monday. He said classes would only resume once “all” grievance were addressed. This included firing the security company that allegedly shot and killed Madonsela.
Mthembu said in his statement that management had to remind the SRC that its president was the one who suggested – in a meeting on February 8 – that classes should resume on Monday.
“No single member of the SRC differed with the fact that the SRC President made that suggestion, although some suddenly added conditions which were not attached when the meeting took the recommendation to SENEX. Although a few members of the SRC registered their dissent, the meeting largely agreed that the condition to only start lectures once all problems are resolved was unreasonable,” said Mthembu.