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What started as a peaceful protest by Cape Peninsula University of Technology (CPUT) students fighting for their rights took an ugly turn as the student recreational centre and the cleaning supply room were set alight and students clashed with the police.

Students at CPUT have since been left in shock after receiving news yesterday from the university that they must vacate their residences by 4pm today and that all academic activities were cancelled.

In an interview with News24, the university spokesperson, Lauren Kansley said the emergency evacuation was necessary to ensure the safety of students especially those who were not part of the protest. Students are being provided transport to their respect home provinces, departing from Tygervalley. It is only international students who are seemingly not catered for.

While many slept with their bags packed, some students were simply not having it after copies of a court interdict was delivered by the sheriff of the court to almost all the residences of CPUT. While some students are complying with the university to vacate, some are staying put due to fear of connectivity when they get home and doubts they will get the money to travel back to Cape Town once the university re-opens. The SRC is advising them to not vacate unless an eviction letter is sent.

A CPUT student addresses the police. during FeesMustFall protest in 2015. Archive photo by Siyavuya Khaya

One of the major grievances that the students have is the new National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) condition that students with 60 credits or less are to receive support for book allowances only and their accommodation will not be covered. Other grievances include the failure of the university to pay first-year students their allowance since the beginning of the year, and the withholding of academic records and certificates of qualification to students because of historical debt. They also have a fear that NSFAS wants to venture into sending students their living allowances by paying service providers instead. The university shuttles services are a inadequate, as well, for the number of students in some residences.

“We feel as if the university is going back on their word on some of these issues. During feesmustfall, CPUT agreed that students will be given their qualifications and academic record even if they owe the university. This year we saw students leaving their graduation without their qualifications,” said Sikelela Msizazwe, chairperson of the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) Student Command in the Western Cape. The EFF is mobilising for a mass meeting to report to students what is currently happening and to chart a way forward, said Msizazwe.

According to Kabelo Kennybarel from South African Student Congress (Sasco), a meeting to resolve this was proposed for yesterday at a hotel with Vice Chancellor Chris Nhlapho, but he wanted only the SRC to be present, resulting in the cancellation of the meeting. He added that CPUT has joined forces with students from the University of Western Cape (UWC) as they share the same struggles under both universities managements.

The student leaders do not deny that students clashed with the police and that a police officer was badly beaten at the Bellville campus. They rather return the accusation; students were, by the time of the reported clashes with police, they said, tired of being teargassed and shot at and were acting out of self defence.

UWC students during a FeesMustFall protests in 2015 calling for nationalisation as a way to fund free education. Archive photo by Mzi Velapi

According to a statement by Minister of Higher Education and Training Blade Nzimande, arson, vandalism and intimidation will never justify or cannot be associated with any legitimate forms of protest and should be condemned unequivocally by all, including by student leaders themselves. Nzimande said that his department and NSFAS have been consulting both the universities stakeholders including the Student Representative Council to resolve the impasse.