So far this week we have had two days of uninterrupted exams, although we have had constant uncertainty around us as to whether we would be able to continue without disruptions.
There have been ongoing tacit threats about the disruption of exams and these were confirmed by a failed attempt of arson at the Sport Stadium on Sunday; mobilisation of students and cleaning staff to participate in the march at Parliament on Monday; and the gathering of a large group of the protesting students, yesterday afternoon.
This morning there was ongoing mobilisation of students around the residences, seemingly in response to correspondence from the Chair of Council, declining the request for an urgent Special Council meeting to deal with UWC’s funding of historic debt. During the mobilisation, a section of the Ruth First residence was also set alight. UWC’s fire and medical officer responded to the fire-alarms set off by the fire and, upon his arrival at the residence, he was attacked and badly assaulted by the protestors and had to be rushed to hospital for medical attention. The Police arrested 5 students in connection with the assault. In addition, a female security officer was also assaulted and threatened at knife-point.
Some of the students protesting around the residences this morning again carried sjamboks, bricks, knob-kieries and wore balaclavas. During the course of the morning the protesting students have been throwing stones at security personnel and, in addition to starting fires around the student residences, they have also damaged University property. The situation is complicated by the fact that some of the cleaning staff are actively participating in these protests.
This morning’s first exam session proceeded without interruption, but this happened parallel to the events referred to above.
At the time of writing this update, the students firstly entered the Main Hall and emptied fire distinguishers in the Hall, leaving the Main Hall covered in powder. Fortunately there were no exams taking place at that time as it was between sessions. We also received reports of widespread damage and various buildings that were under attack. For now we have information about damage to the A and B blocks, Life Sciences, School of Public Health and the Social Sciences building. The police fired stun grenades and any reports of live ammunition being used, are not correct. We also have visual confirmation of students setting off large fire crackers to add to the confusion. Unfortunately, the limited police presence and the large number of buildings that are being targeted, makes it very difficult to control the situation.
The purpose of this communique is simply to share information about what is happening. I will communicate later about our response to the situation. The next session of the exams is due to be underway at the time when you receive this message. Under the circumstances it would not be fair on students to write the 12:30 session. We are cancelling all exams for the rest of today and, after assessing the situation, we will take a decision about the rest of the week. As communicated earlier, all exams scheduled for this week are also scheduled to be repeated in the week of 1 December 2015.
We will be sending further communication later today.
Prof Tyrone Pretorius
Rector and Vice-Chancellor