South African student election sparks violence

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November 6, 2009

3:00 AM

Student opinion came under fire, quite literally, when students torched several buildings in South Africa’s University of Zululand after the Oct. 20 student election results were disputed.

“One lecture hall was completely ravaged when it was set alight, and a number of buildings were damaged by stones. The damage could be well over a million rand [$131,744],” University Registrar Sishokonke Maphisa said to the South African Press Association.

According to South African newspaper The Mercury, one of the parties, the South African Democratic Students Movement, was penalized for missing the deadline to submit its candidate list, resulting in a landslide win for the opposing South African Students Congress.

The deadline for the elections was not printed in any memorandum or election timetable.

In a letter to the university’s vice-chancellor, the chief elector officer recommended the elections be nullified Monday.

In response to the letter, the Dean of Students Mandla Hlongwane proposed a formation of an interim alliance structure to represent students in the university. SASCO, however, rejected the proposition.

Tuesday, ten students began to riot at 2 p.m. The majority of the damage happened after 11 p.m.

“The lecture hall was burnt down and several buildings including the library, computer labs and dining halls were damaged. Police had to fire rubber bullets to disperse students,” African National Congress Youth League Branch Chairman Thabani Mthabela said to The Times, a South African newspaper.

While no suspects have been identified, police inspector Mbongiseni Mdlalose said it was evident the students caused the damage.

Currently, arson and public violence are being investigated.

“[Once found], they’ll be criminally charged or expelled,” Maphisa said to The Mercury. “Students’ lives can’t be put in danger.”

SADESMO has also condemned the violence, accusing SASCO for the destruction, noting that SASCO offices had not been vandalized.

Elections cannot be held until next year, but security has been increased to prevent violence.

“We will be interacting with all the parties that are actually involved, but we are appealing for calm and a speedy resolution of this matter,” Gwedz Qonde, special advisor to the university’s higher education minister, said.

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