By Zodidi Dano
University of Cape Town students frustrated with the housing crisis and other challenges, set paintings and a plaque from the Smuts Hall residence alight at the foot of Jameson stairs yesterday.
Earlier, students raided the dining hall at Fuller residence, and stripped the hall of its decor and paintings. The paintings were piled high and set alight, as students danced and chanted.
Police spokesman Lieutenant-Colonel Andrè Traut said police had been deployed to monitor the situation, but no arrests have been made. Police were still on the scene late last night.
UCT spokeswoman Gerda Kruger said: “The behaviour by RMF members is |criminal and has exceeded all possible limits of lawful protest action. We are deeply concerned for the safety of students and staff. We call on students to refrain from supporting RMF in these actions and to vacate the area.”
Earlier in the day, the university’s management had threatened to dismantle the Rhodes Must Fall (RMF) movement shack erected on Residence Road, Upper Campus. The one-roomed corrugated iron|structure, RMF said, was a representation of township life.
A portable toilet stall and two braai stands had been erected alongside the shack which had been cordoned off with chevron tape.
Inside the shack were a mattress, a table and a two-plate stove. The outside of the shack had been painted green, with the words “UCT housing crisis” scrawled across the back.
In a letter from the university’s management, it said the shack was interrupting traffic and pedestrian flow.
The letter asked the students to move the shack off Residence Road, to a grassy patch in front of Smuts Hall.
The letter read: “If you refuse to allow the officers to move the shack and the shack is still in its current position by 5pm we will unfortunately have no option but to take action to remove it.”
By the 5pm deadline, there was no sign of security or university officials present to dismantle the structure.
The students had barricaded a section of the road with tyres and wheelie bins and were singing and dancing around a small fire of dustbins and trash in the parking lot near the shack.
University spokesman Elijah Moholola said: “The reason the management has asked RMF to move the shack is that it has caused interference with traffic
flow, even to the point of causing a backlog on the M3 today.
“It interferes with the freedom of movement of other staff and students, and due to bins being set alight it causes safety risks.”
It was only at 6pm that the students gathered at the Jameson steps to hold a plenary which came to the decision of invading Fuller Hall’s dining room to find food.
The students entered the hall from the kitchen after kicking the door down.
They then helped themselves to food.
“We, the underprivileged students who have been protesting all day, are hungry,” said Zola Shokane of the RMF movement.
Shokane said members of the RMF were protesting against the housing crisis, financial exclusion and the management’s lack of commitment to promises made last year.
“We are homeless, there is no accommodation for us here. What else can we do.”
The hashtags #HomelessAtUCT and #Shackville were used to gain traction on social media.
UCT has 6 680 beds for 27 000 students.
“Some 75 percent of students live outside of the residence system,” Moholola said.
The university has asked homeowners with space in Cape Town to assist the university in providing residence for those with no accommodation.
Another student, Paleo Mokoena, also a member of RMF, said the shack would remain on Residence Road until vice-chancellor Max Price committed to meeting with them.
Mokoena said the letter was hand delivered to the group by the deputy vice chancellor.
“There is no signature, no letterhead and we saw they had about 20 copies of it handing it out to students.
“That is no form of communication – we scrunched those papers and threw them in the bin.”
RMF has created a book to record the number of students without accommodation.
By 5pm, at least 50 students had listed their names.
Mokoena said: “We are here to meet with management on our terms. Max Price must commit to a meeting with us.”
However, Kruger said: “We also delivered to Rhodes Must Fall a letter asking them to vacate Avenue Hall by 12pm on Friday this week.
“We have made repeated attempts to engage RMF on the matter of Avenue Hall and even to discuss the issue of alternative space but they have dismissed any attempt at engagement.
“They refuse to speak with the executive but consistently verbally abuse and threaten.