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Fri Dec 09 03:53:13 SAST 2016

Bloodshed, vows of revenge, vandalism and prayers at UP and UFS

Naledi Shange | 2016-02-23 20:39:50.0
Multiracial students and members of The Christian Revival Church, pray for unity in a parking lot opposite the campus. File photo
Image by: Alon Skuy

While some black students who were injured during violent clashes at the University of Free State bayed for blood and vowed to take revenge, almost 500km away at the University of Pretoria a group of both black and white students linked arms and knelt down in a prayer for peace. 

The contrasting scenes unfolded as the University of Pretoria was considering a proposal to scrap the use of Afrikaans in lectures at the institution. The University of the Free State on the other hand was attempting to douse fires caused by students who were demanding an end to outsourcing. 

On Monday evening, things turned ugly in Bloemfontein when scores of protesters descended on a rugby field where a a Varsity Cup match between the UFS and Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University (NMMU) was being played. 

"The protesters were chased off the field and beaten by the spectators," said Lacea Loader, spokesperson for UFS. 

Several videos and pictures of the incident surfaced on social media. One of the pictures showed a black man who appeared unconscious being carried off the sports field by three white men.

Some people took to social media to compare the incident to the scenes which unfolded during the 1976 Soweto uprising where students rejected the use of Afrikaans language in black schools.

Others however, said it was an insult to compare the two incidents.

Meanwhile, students believed to be affiliated to the Economic Freedom Fighters vandalised a statue of the first state president of South Africa Charles Robberts Swart, who helped draft some of the country's apartheid laws, at the UFS on Tuesday.

The statue which had been broken down using hammers and rocks was dumped in a pond in front of the law faculty at the university.

Earlier in the day, EFF supporters, clad in red T-shirts and berets, spilled onto the campus and blockaded the main gate, while others vandalised the statue and law buildings.

As these scenes unfolded, a war was brewing on Twitter between EFF leader, Julius Malema and Freedom Front Plus chief whip Corné Mulder.

It all started with Mulder calling for his followers on Twitter to unite and crush EFF "fascists". 

"#EFF Fascists - Universities under siege from radicals and new fascists trying to impose their revolution on us. Unite and crush them."

Malema retaliated nine hours later, tweeting: "@MulderCorn we will crush all of you within no time if you want to come with that stinking attitude. Who said we are scared of you?"

Adding their voice to the matter was the Front National party. The party leader in Gauteng Wessel Basson on Tuesday arrived at the University of Pretoria where he vowed to keep Afrikaans alive.

Addressing a crowd outside one of the university’s locked gates, he questioned where the Democratic Alliance and FF Plus were "when they are needed".

"Where is the DA that is supposedly fighting for us and for our language? They are not here. Where is the Freedom Front? Where is Pieter Mulder? We’ve been waiting since ’94 that you come here and fight for our language. Where are you Dr. Mulder? The Afrikaner is waiting for you here. You must walk in front. You have to be the example of what this is all about."

With all these political powers coming into play, News24 spoke to Wits University Professor, Daryl Glaser who said it was expected of political parties to see opportunities in the student conflict.

"Political party politics affect all levels of political activity in the country and it affects institutions as well... The ANC has had this very ambivalent approach to the student unrest, on one side it has wanted to ride on the back of it to claim support for the students. On the other side it wants to rein the protest in,"  Glaser said.

At the University of Pretoria, Afrikaans speaking students were joined by their parents to march against the potential scrapping of Afrikaans under the banner of: "Afrikaans sal bly".

One student told News24 that their plight was not about race but about the preservation of the Afrikaans language.

One of the student pastors at the University of Pretoria told News24 that it was imperative for the country to work though these issues.

"We need to speak a message of reconciliation, a message of love and hope. A message that will help us as young people not to go back to how things were 20 years ago," said Khoatheli Sello.

It was understood that last Thursday, a meeting between the university management and several organisations ended in a stand-off.

ANC Youth League Secretary at UP, Samkele Cetyiwe, claimed AfriForum derailed plans for the meeting but the Afrikaans lobby group denied this.

“We were going to debate language policy. AfriForum managed to get into the meeting and disrupted proceedings. One thing led to another and a black student was hit by a white student,” he claimed.

At a press briefing held on Tuesday, the SA Students Congress (Sasco) blamed AfriForum for the unrest at both UFS and UP. 

The group waged war on the civil rights organisation, labelling it a "racist... backward organisation", following recent racial hostilities at universities.

"Their action to prevent policy dialogue on changing and transforming the Afrikaans mode of teaching to English as a medium of instruction in class is backward and racist," said Sasco president Thabo Moloja

AfriForum’s CEO Kallie Kriel accused Sasco and the EFF of violent attacks against AfriForum Youth, saying: "I am not surprised by this statement. It portrays what we said all along that Sasco and EFF are the true aggressors.

"It’s quite ludicrous when they accuse someone of being aggressor, yet they wage war. What we see on social media and videos is that our students are not aggressors, but they are simply defending themselves," he said.

Meanwhile, the SA Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) would probe the violence that broke out at a Varsity Cup at UFS on Monday. 

Source News 24

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