Dozens of students were leaving the University of Free State’s (UFS’s) QwaQwa campus on Tuesday after classes were suspended until further notice after a violent protest over unpaid allowances.
The university’s decision to suspend physical classes and continue lectures online comes after a group of protesting students allegedly torched the campus library, clinic and computer laboratory on Monday night over their unpaid National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) allowances.
UFS spokesperson Lacea Loader said the fire was caused by arson.
“The preliminary finding of the urgent investigation into the fire… indicates that the two buildings were intentionally set alight. This was established by the police and university’s protection services this morning [Tuesday],” said Loader.
Loader said the facilities were almost completely destroyed, with damage to both buildings estimated at R35m.
“Since the outbreak of the fire, one person who is a registered student has been arrested. A process is under way to identify more suspects. The UFS will institute the necessary disciplinary action against suspects who are registered students,” said Loader.
Phuthaditjhaba police spokesperson WO Mmako Mophiring said the student was expected to appear in court soon for malicious damage to property.
“The 26-year-old-student arrested by security last [Monday] night is believed to be one of the group involved in the cause of the damages and fire. The police and fire department were called to assist. The police are monitoring the public violence at various institutions, and universities have their own security to protect the property of the institution. It is still early stages but we cannot disclose the further investigations that are being conducted,” said Mophiring.
Student representative council president Simphiwe Dube said: “Classes cannot continue when the students are starving. The university should give students money for meals and accommodation in the meantime, like they did last year and it can claim the money from NSFAS when it pays.”
Koos Moneri, 20, a second-year student, said NSFAS-funded students had not received their R1,500 meal allowances for March and April.
Moneri, who has been funded by the financial aid scheme since last year, said he has been negatively affected by NSFAS’s delay in distributing their meal allowances.
Moneri said in February he got his R1,500 meal allowance and R1,500 of his R5,200 textbook allowance.
He said from the R3,000 he received, he had used R2,500 to pay for his rent and the remaining amount to buy food.
“NSFAS had not paid my rent for February. My landlord threatened to kick me out if I did not pay her. I had to sacrifice. She said it is either you pay or ship out,” said Moneri.
Moneri said with the remaining amount he had bought 10kg of mielie meal, a bag of potatoes and box of 30 large eggs.
When Sowetan visited the campus on Tuesday, there was a heavy police presence outside the area with three police vans, a Kombi and nyala parked outside the campus.
Several men dressed in black and heavily armed, with helmets, shields and batons, were stationed outside.
Students who stay on campus were seen leaving with their luggage while some were going in with bags of groceries.
Another student who spoke to Sowetan on condition of anonymity said she wished NSFAS paid their meal allowances on time.
“When NSFAS does not give us money on time we are not able to buy toiletries,” said the student.
NSFAS spokesperson Kagisho Mamabolo said: “NSFAS can confirm that it has since received the first tranche of its budgetary allocation for the first quarter of the financial year. The scheme will thus be able to start processing payments to institutions and paying student allowances from Friday, April 8 2022.”
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