The Department of Higher Education and Training has called for “decisive action” to tackle unrest at state universities and has warned that it will not tolerate the “destruction of property and threat to lives” during protests.
In a strongly worded statement on Wednesday, the department urged management at troubled state universities “to take decisive action against those elements that are bent on using any excuse to turn our institutions into sites of violence and vandalism”.
The department said it “cannot and will not tolerate the destruction of property and threat to lives”.
In the statement issued by media liaison officer, Khaye Nkwanyana, the department said it had requested the police to safeguard students, staff, workers and university property.
On the resurgence of university unrest, the department said it acknowledged that university students, staff and workers, like all members of our society, had the right to protest and voice their opinions and grievances.
“However, in doing so, they have a duty to do so peacefully and in a manner that respects both the rights and property of others,” said the department.
“This right to protest is enshrined in the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa and upheld by the Department of Higher Education and Training at all times.”
The department said the disruptions at the University of the Free State and University of Pretoria, as well as the violence at the University of Cape Town last week, “clearly show that there are fringe elements seeking to destabilise our institutions as part of a perverse political agenda”.
The department said these fringe elements were attempting to dislodge legitimately elected student, worker and staff structures through illegal activity, violence and destruction of property.
“These fringe elements seem hell bent to exploit every problem as part of seeking to hijack legitimate student concerns for their narrow ends.
“The Department urges university management to engage with legitimately and democratically elected structures, and address the concerns and grievances raised by these legitimate structures and not be held to ransom by elements who have no legitimate mandate.”
The department urged students and workers to adhere to the university rules, regulations and applicable protocols in dealing with grievances and matters of concern.
“All our public higher education institutions have structures through which these matters can be resolved, such as the Council, Institutional Forums, Student Representative Council, trade unions and Executive Management.
“We also call upon all progressive forces on our campuses to condemn and distance themselves from these acts of intimidation, violence and vandalism. The primary objective of our universities is teaching, learning and research, and these activities should remain sacrosanct.
“We need to intensify the struggle against racism, but at the same time condemn the short-sighted anti-white chauvinism rearing its ugly head on some campuses, as ours is a struggle to build transformed and non-racial universities and South African society.”
The minister of higher education and training, Blade Nzimande, urged governance and management bodies to deal with issues of “racism and discrimination firmly and with the respect, seriousness and urgency it demands”.
The Department called on all stakeholders in the university sector to work towards building on the progress and gains made in preparation for this academic year. “We must protect that progress and allow order to be restored and preserved at all our universities.”