University of Venda student protest disrupts campus activities, with police van targeted, roads blocked, traffic signs vandalised
Student protests at the University of Venda in Thohoyandou, Limpopo, continued for a third day on Tuesday, with incidents of violence disrupting operations inside and outside the campus. Overnight on Tuesday, a police van at the Thohoyandou station was torched.
Student protesters at the University of Venda in Limpopo lobbed a makeshift petrol bomb at a police nyala in Thohoyandou on Tuesday, 12 September – the third day of disruptions on campus triggered by complaints about the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) and other gripes.
Students have been protesting since Sunday evening. Demands include that the scheme should pay their food and transport allowances on time and that the campus library operates on a 24-hour basis.
The protests coincide with rising anger on other campuses about the administration of funds from NSFAS, in particular the new payment system that beneficiaries say includes exorbitant fees.
Read more in Daily Maverick: Students march to Union Buildings to demand that NSFAS scrap new ‘extra-fees’ payment system
Daily Maverick was outside the university campus when students burnt tyres, and threw stones and petrol bombs at the police on Tuesday.
They outnumbered public order police officers in two armoured police nyalas. The police nyala hit by a petrol bomb was extinguished by officers.
During the protests on Monday, some of the students seen on cellphone footage damaging road signs were wearing EFF and ANC colours. They covered their faces so they could not be identified.
On Tuesday overnight, a van at the local police station was torched.
This week’s disruptions follow protests in May over similar issues which led to a campus shutdown.
Classes on campus were suspended on Monday, and then went online. Outside campus, traffic signs were vandalised and road paving was uprooted. University Road was blockaded with rocks, steel and bricks.
Thulamela Local Municipality spokesperson Nndwamato Tshiila said they were looking to open criminal cases against some students. Traffic lights at the main four-way junction leading to the university had been destroyed and removed.
The students are protesting under the leadership of the Economic Freedom Fighters Students Command.
The president of the Students’ Representative Council (SRC), Gudani Tshamano, who has been suspended on charges of misconduct arising from the May protests, said that although they condemned the destruction of infrastructure, students had valid reasons to protest.
“Univen [University of Venda] has 15,000 registered students; 10,000 of them are funded by NSFAS and are expected to get monthly food and housing allowances. Only about 2,000 students stay on campus,” Tshamano said.
“The Wi-Fi is currently not working, so the battle is instead of the Wi-Fi, which is not working, let us be given data. Again, we are saying we want free academic records, because you will remember that Univen is one of the rural-based universities where [the] majority of students here are funded by NSFAS. That simply tells you that they are poor; they can’t afford [it]. So, how do you expect the very students to pay for their academic record? We are saying NSFAS must be the one responsible to pay,” Tshamano said.
He said some students had not received their NSFAS allowance since June.
“NSFAS claims the university did not not claim the money for the entire year; they [claimed] only for the first semester, which the university is rejecting. We are saying we must go together at NSFAS offices in Cape Town, sit around the table and resolve that,” Tshamano said.
He indicated that he is not participating in the protest as he has been suspended.
Eugine Mahlangu, a first-year law student from Mbombela, Mpumalanga, said tensions between the management and students have been building for months.
“We, the students [staying off campus], often lack data and often NSFAS takes a long time to pay for our allowances. We decided to embark on the violent protest to put pressure [on] varsity management to do their best to resolve our concerns,’’ Mahlangu said.
Eunice Kekana, a second-year media studies student from Polokwane, said the students want the university library to operate on a 24-hour basis.
“The thing is, we are here to study but the library closes at midnight. We don’t understand why. What I heard is that they are afraid to pay overtime for library employees,” Kekana said.
Students at the University of Venda have staged multiple protests in recent years over various issues.
University spokesperson Dr Takalani Dzaga has condemned the vandalisation of property by the protesting students. He said no formal demands were presented to the management by the SRC. Dzaga said some of the demands needed to be resolved by NSFAS.
“The academic suspension announced on Monday was only for that day. We are now encouraging lecturers and students to continue working via Zoom and online,” Dzaga said.
On Tuesday, provincial police spokesperson Colonel Malesela Ledwaba said no arrests have been made so far. He warned that the destruction of infrastructure will not be tolerated.
Ledwaba said no injuries had been reported, though some students claimed protesters had been injured by rubber bullets fired by the police.
NSFAS failed to respond to requests for comment.
Daily Maverick has reported extensively on the funding-related issues at NSFAS. The issue first came to light in July, when funded students raised alarm over non-payment of their allowances, which covered essentials such as food, transport and hygiene essentials. This followed the implementation of a new direct banking system, which would see students receive their allowances deposited into NSFAS bank accounts instead of being distributed through universities.
Read more in Daily Maverick: ‘Uncertainty, anxiety and frustration’ — NSFAS students cry foul over new banking system
After a public outcry, NSFAS said it would investigate the complaints raised by students. However, students were still not funded, which led to protests at the Union Buildings and Parliament.
At the same time, following extensive investigations by the Organisation Undoing Tax Abuse, NSFAS placed its CEO, Andile Nongogo, on special leave following allegations related to his previous role at the Services Sector Education and Training Authority.
Read more in Daily Maverick: NSFAS boss placed on leave after students protest against direct banking system outside Parliament
In early September, a complaint was filed against NSFAS at the South African Human Rights Commission over possible human rights violations against funded students. Last week, NSFAS appeared before Parliament to account for the funding issues, where the higher education oversight committee ordered it to resolve its issues within two weeks. DM
This article was updated on Wednesday morning, September 13.