By: Sue Maclennan
With tension building again at Rhodes University late last night, Tuesday 18 October, the Grahamstown campus looked set for more conflict between police and protesters.
Around 10.30pm last night student media organisation Oppidan Press reported that the police were conducting searches throughout the campus, that there were burning barricades and that the media had been barred from entering.
Yesterday morning Tuesday 18 October Rhodes staff and contractors were counting the cost of Monday night’s protests on the campus.
A Rhodes University lecturer who left his office around 5pm on Monday 17 October arrived around 8.15am yesterday to find his floor covered in glass, a large hole in his window and a brick on the floor.
However, in a night during which several windows were broken, cars and mobile ATMs were overturned, a security guard had his radio grabbed from him and running conflicts between protesters and police continued over about six hours in various parts of the Grahamstown campus, Sociology lecturer Dr Komlan Agbedahn said he didn’t believe his office had been specifically targeted.
“I didn’t even leave a light on,” he told Grocott’s Mail yesterday morning.
“I can’t teach today,” he said. “Not only because of this (pointing to the glass on the floor) but because of the mood on the campus.”
Two overturned vehicles, and broken glass doors and windows in at least four buildings were some of the aftermath of six hours of protest action and police response at the Rhodes University campus Monday night that included the use of stun grenades and tear gas.
Cat and mouse
In the section of the campus that Grocott’s Mail observed for an hour and a half Monday night, a group of students played cat and mouse with around 10 police officers in riot gear. After verbally challenging the officers, the students retreated into a residence when they approached; After setting off two stun grenades, the officers entered the residence, arresting at least one student.
There were posts on social media that described other incidents on campus where people were teargased. On Facebook one person claimed that police were hiding behind trees and ambushing students. This was not confirmed. Also on social media at the time and being spoken about were rumours of a curfew, although the source of this information was not clear.
While an early morning statement from the University said the academic programme would continue, Grocott’s Mail observed large lecture venues with only a few students in attendance during the day.
Two vehicles overturned early Monday night were still on their sides yesterday morning. A staff member said they belonged to the university's catering section.
Broken glass doors at Barratt Lecture Theatre, Eden Grove and the library among other places were visible and a local glass contractor was yesterday morning inspecting and assessing damage to be repaired, along with staff from the University’s building maintenance section.
A student who spoke to Grocott’s Mail Tuesday morning on condition of anonymity said she had been participating in the protests since they began and that the mood had taken a definite turn Monday night.
“We have our meetings every week and there’s this motto to have high discipline... just to keep everyone controlled,” the second-year student said.
“So if someone gets excited and starts making violent comments, they say, ‘No keep the discipline, keep the moral [high ground]’.”
“Because Rhodes has been very good at keeping a kind of peaceful protest. Even though we did some barricades, it’s not as violent as what you saw at Wits or UCT.
“But last night at that meeting, students were saying, no it’s enough - the government isn’t recognising us by being peaceful: we need to start doing things that other universities are doing.
“And that’s when everyone thought, well okay, from tonight on we’re not going to have this high discipline, high moral thing any more. We’re just going to do what we want to do. Even if it’s not as a group… If as an individual you feel like doing something, then just do it. Don’t have somebody telling you what to do, what not to do.
:So after the meeting, around 7, we came to Barratt and wanted to disrupt the lecture, but the doors were locked.
"So then they thought okay we need to break the windows so we can get in, and set off the fire alarm.
“Then one of the police officers came and called for backup and that’s when everyone left and went back to the [Student] Union.
And then my friend and I went back to res. Because I had my laptop with me and we decided we needed to put our phones and things in res, just to be safe.
“When we came out, everyone was at the library. They were singing and everything was fine as normal.
"But then some students went to… what I heard was the plan was to burn down the bridge - when you go past the Eden Grove building toward the Law Department. That bridge over the stream. I heard things about they wanted to burn that down.
“I think maybe that’s where they were going towards, but on their way there they were throwing rocks at Eden Grove and that’s where the heavy police presence started and the shooting. We saw the stun-grenade flares go up and everyone just started running away.
“Then the students started throwing stones at buildings and that’s when things escalated. The police started shooting. I tried to move as far from the starting line as possible.
“When they started coming closer, that’s when I decided I need to go back to res now because it’s going to endanger me and I don’t need to end up in jail or end up injured.
“That’s basically my story of the night.”
The student said she felt great personal conflict over the turn things had taken.
“I would love to write exams,. I would love to study and know that I am studying 24 hours a day for an exam that I’m writing.
“I would also love to be able to go home and tell my parents, you don’t have to worry about me: you had the stress of getting me through primary school and high school - now you don’t have to spend thousands of rands on me from your own pocket - or have the stress of ‘Is the bursary going to pay for you next year?’.
“I think if there is free education in the long run... I would love for my children ot to have that stress.
“So I’m very much for this cause - but at the same time, I can’t jeopardise my future for it.”
Hi-Tec Security Manager Andre Wille confirmed that a security guard had been overpowered by protesters Monday night and they had taken his radio. However, Wille said because this was a local guarding radio and not connected to the company’s security system or any alarms, the loss did not pose a threat to security.
“Anyway it only has a 12-hour battery life,” WIlle said. “So by now it will have run out, and it’s unlikely they’ll find the right charger for it.”
Grocott’s Mail spoke to two visibly shaken security guards at different locations on the campus Monday night.
“This is terrible,” said the first, who did not want to be named. “I have never experienced anything like this. If they tell me to come back here tomorrow I’m going to say no.”
He said he had been terrified of being caught in the crossfire between students, who were throwing bricks, and the police.
A second guard, visibly anxious, as he was stationed central to where much of the conflict had occurred, had intervened when students tried to get kitchen staff to stop working in the dining halls.
“Those mothers were saying they can’t just stop working,” he told Grocott’s Mail, constantly looking around. “They have to work for their own children.”
Police spokesperson Brigadier Sally de Beer, by 5am Tuesday 18 October 10 people had been arrested on the Rhodes University campus following a series of incidents that began around 6.30pm Monday night.
De Beer said police had intervened following disruptions of tests, and stone-throwing with damage caused.
“Police took appropriate action to restore order and arrested 10 individuals for contravention of court order, public violence and malicious injury to property.”
In a statement issued on behalf of the University Tuesday morning, media liaison officer Catherine Deiner said, “Protest action eventually ceased at 00h30 on 18 October after which no more disruptions occurred.
“Service staff were busy in all affected lecture venues early this morning, Tuesday 18 October, to clean and remove broken glass. All venues are now ready to be used.
“We are extremely grateful to staff who continue to support us in keeping the academic programme running. The contribution of wardens and other staff who worked throughout the disruptions to calm their students is noted in particular.”
Later yesterday, Executive Director: Infrastructure, Operations and Finance Dr Iain L’Ange said Due to the events of Monday night and today, a budget 2016 & fee sliding scale presentation for Rhodes University, scheduled for Tuesday night, would be recorded by the two presenters and would be made available from Wednesday morning on the University’s intranet, RUConnected.
“A question and answer session will be rescheduled at a later stage, time and circumstances permitting,” L’ainge said.
However, judging from reports by student media organisation Oppidan Press and Activate Online late last night, it seemed unlikely the campus ould be back to normal today Wednesday 19 October.
Between 10pm and 11pm last night Tuesday 18 October they tweeted as follows:
Police are conducting sweeping searches up campus where media has been barred from entering - Oppidan
A Public Order Police van from East London has just arrived on campus - Activate
Barricades burning on campus - Oppidan.
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