CPUT student arrested for arson attack on historic church

28 September 2017 - 13:09 By Petru Saal And Aron Hyman
A section of the St. Marks Anglican Church at CPUT's Cape Town campus has been badly damaged in a fire set allegedly by protesting students and workers.
A section of the St. Marks Anglican Church at CPUT's Cape Town campus has been badly damaged in a fire set allegedly by protesting students and workers.
Image: Facebook/Heart FM News

A student has been arrested for an arson attack on the historic St Mark’s Anglican Church on the District Six campus of the Cape Peninsula University of Technology (CPUT).

A swift response from security officials led to the detention of the 20-year-old‚ who was found with a petrol bomb in hand‚ police said. But now rumours have surfaced that it might be the work of a security company who stand to benefit from the unrest.

“Yesterday Cape Town Central SAPS members received information that the church building at CPUT was on fire. Whilst on their way they arranged for the fire brigade to extinguish the fire. On their arrival a 20-year-old suspect was handed over to them by security personnel who caught one of the suspects with a petrol bomb in his possession‚” said Western Cape police spokesperson FC Van Wyk on Thursday.

The suspect will appear in court once charged.

CPUT has been hit by student and worker protests in recent weeks. Earlier this year four students were suspended from the institution. Now disgruntled students are demanding that the suspensions be lifted.

Shaheed Mohamed from the Workers’ International Vanguard Party - representing university employees - said many stand to benefit from the unrest at the institution.

Mohamed disputed police’s version of events. He said students and workers had a meeting on Wednesday and the crowd dispersed peacefully at 4pm.

“The first instinct may be to blame workers and students but remember that Vetus Schola was charged with guarding CPUT. They have the most to lose‚” Mohamed said.

CPUT spokesperson Lauren Kansley said the protests on campus stem from a small group of students and workers. She said two properties were set alight on Wednesday - an engineering building and St Mark’s.

“While these attacks on CPUT infrastructure is distressing‚ what we find infinitely more despicable is the heinous actions of setting a church alight‚” she said.

Kansley said at this stage security will not be beefed up at the institution as there are already two security companies patrolling the premises. When asked whether security officials are sabotaging peace agreements‚ she said: “It is a theory‚ like everyone else has a theory. We can’t really speak to that. We employ the security company for the greater good of the campus.”

However‚ she did confirm that a small group of workers are still continuing with their stay-away.

A Vetus Schola employee denied the allegations made about the company. He told TimesLIVE they have trouble securing the university premises because it is not fenced off.

In recent weeks security guards have had sporadic skirmishes with groups of people coming to “damage university property” day and night. The security company is stationed at the campus 24 hours a day‚ seven days a week.

The Anglican Diocese of Cape Town has come out strongly against those who tried to the destroy the church “which played a pivotal role in the struggle for justice and freedom”.

In a press statement on Thursday‚ the church expressed their disappointment at criminal activities that have been plaguing CPUT.

“For many years during the apartheid era‚ St Mark’s stood as a beacon of hope to all who were forcibly removed from District Six. When everything around it was destroyed‚ it stood out amid the rubble as a beacon of resistance‚ withstanding being demolished by the apartheid government.

“Today it stands as a heritage site‚ an island of resistance amidst the towering modern buildings‚ as a reminder of the painful past. It is therefore disappointing for all associated with St Mark’s District Six that a place of worship could come under attack.”

The church vowed to work with the police to bring the guilty to book.