Go back

Violent protests disrupt Cape Peninsula university

Image: MikeWJones [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

“Scenario planning” underway on ways to complete first term of 2023 after residences evacuated

Heads of teaching and learning at South Africa’s Cape Peninsula University of Technology are discussing when to restart lectures after violent protests closed its Cape Town campuses last week.

On 11 May, the university announced it would close all campuses indefinitely and that all academic activities would cease “with immediate effect”—a decision it attributed to “continued violent disruptions, torching of buildings and wanton attacks on institutional infrastructure”.

The decision came after a week-long protest over student financial aid rules culminated in protesters setting fire to buildings on the university’s Bellville and Wellington campuses.

The university proceeded to evacuate student residences and sent thousands of students to their homes all around South Africa on private buses. On 16 May it said the evacuation had “concluded successfully”.

University spokesperson Lauren Kansley told Research Professional News on 17 May that campuses are now “calm”. No teaching was meant to take place this week due to it being a “study week” in the institutional calendar. However, it is not yet clear when, or how, teaching will resume.

“We await our academic heads of teaching and learning to give us the plan of action for completing Term 1,” Kansley said. “They are busy scenario planning as we speak.” She said the university was able to move to hybrid or online teaching and learning easily.

Academics are able to access their labs and offices on campus, she said. Academics often use study weeks to schedule writing retreats or conferences, she added. “Much of that continues.”

The students’ chief complaint relates to a change in the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) funding requirements. This states that students studying for less than 60 course credits are no longer eligible for an accommodation and transport allowance—something that caused anxiety and anger among affected students.

On 12 May South Africa’s higher education minister Blade Nzimande said he strongly condemned the violent disruptions, arson and student intimidation at CPUT as well as at the University of the Western Cape, which was also rocked by protests last week.

”Government cannot and will not tolerate the threat to lives, the destruction of property and requests the university management to tighten up security in all the university campuses in order to ensure the safety of all students and workers,” Nzimande said.

The Department of Higher Education and Training and NSFAS have been consulting the university’s stakeholders,including the Student Representative Council, to resolve the impasse, the department noted. “The minister will be awaiting a full report from both the consultation processes and a way forward.”