Political jousting could be behind university violence

Media conference about situation on the UFS Bloemfontein Campus.

Professor Jonathan Jansen has hinted at the possibility that political parties vying for positions could be fanning the flames of racial conflict at the University of the Free State.

Th UFS rector says UFS management has learned from reliable sources, that “the Varsity Cup is, in fact, a target of national protests in front of a live television audience.” Thus they believe the protests on the campus of the UFS, may be led by forces who are not affiliated to the university. 

“We are also conscious of the fact that even as we speak, various political formations are vying for position inside the turmoil in this important election year. In fact, part of the difficulty of resolving competing demands is that they come from different political quarters, and change all the time, ” Jansen said at a media briefing at the Protea Hotel Willow Lake, in Bloemfontein on Tuesday afternoon.

Jansen was particularly concerned about the levels of violence which accompanied Monday night’s clashes between rival groups of protestors.  Footage of rugby supporters swarming the pitch and violently assaulting students protesting for an end to the outsourcing of labour, has gone viral. Fans at the match between the UFS’ Shimlas and Madibaz took matters into their own hands when the protestors took to the field, holding hands and singing, in the 17th minute of the match.

 “We cannot over-emphasize our level of disgust and dismay at the behaviour of the spectators. It is not what the University of the Free State is about and we are woring around the clock to gather evidence on the basis of which we will pursue both charges and, in the case of students, also disciplinary action on campus.”

No one was seriously injured during this incident. However, the conflict soon took a racial undertone, when mostly white residents from several residences gathered outside House Abram Fischer, leading to clashes the mainly black groups of protestors. Police used stun grenades and rubber bullets to disperse the group of Black students, before asking the White students to return to their residences. 

This led to further racial tension.

Several armed white men could be seen on campus and at the institution’s gates. Afriforum has confirmed that members of their community patrol teams were on campus to help protect hostel residents.

The accusations of political interference by the UFS echo the sentiments of the University of Pretoria’s management. They released a statement on Tuesday morning asking that the institution’s governance processes be respected, in order to avoid serious disruptions.

“University management is deeply concerned that political parties are using the current situation as an opportunity to play out their political differences on our campuses,” the statement read.

Both institutions’ claims are supported by events at the UFS on Monday. Several protestors, dressed in Economic Freedom Fighters regalia, could be seen participating in the destruction of a statue of former South African president CR Swart. Swart is best known for his role as minister of justice during the Rivonia trial, which saw Nelson Mandela and other struggle heroes imprisoned.

The bronze statue was set alight, before being removed from it’s plinth and being dumped in a nearby pond.

However, despite the alleged attempts by political parties to use the protests on campuses to further their own goals, students from the UFS also made it clear that they will not have their struggle co-opted.

 Addressing a group of EFF-supporters at the UFS main gate, they said any party is free to join their fight. No one, however, will be allowed to push their political agendas.

Speaking on behalf of the students, Siya Mtamzeli said the protest which started as a fight against perceived unfair labour practices have now also become a fight against institutional racism and brutality against black students. – EARL COETZEE