By MALIBONGWE DAYIMANI and SINO MAJANGAZA
Corrupt staff have been accused by the University of Fort Hare vice-chancellor Professor Sakhele Buhlungu of stoking up violent student protest and rioting on the Alice campus.
In a startling interview from the safety of his Alice home yesterday, Buhlungu said he felt his life was in danger and he needed to take care.
He told a handful of media reporters at his home that he was seeking a court interdict to arrest students who damaged the campus.
The bill for arson and looting had hit the R4-million mark by Monday night and yesterday the campus veered between bouts of turmoil and eery, tense quiet.
The campus grounds were strewn with broken bottles, half-bricks, logs, and burnt tyres.
About 30 private guards from East London, wearing full riot gear and carrying pump-action rubber bullet shotguns, were stationed at the gate.
Buhlungu said students had cornered a stray cow, killed it, skinned it and organised a huge braai for hundreds of their supporters during the two weeks of chaos, which has brought the academic programme to a halt.
Late on Monday night, students set alight a student centre – a week after torching a staff centre.
Buhlungu put the cost of these two acts of arson at R4-million.
He said 40 computers, books and electronic devices to the tune of R2-million were stolen on Monday night when the students looted the student centre. The double-storey building houses a tuck shop, three book stores and a computer lounge, all of which were destroyed.
“Interestingly enough, they looted the book stores but spared one which is owned by someone who has links with the protest leaders,” he said.
Buhlungu, who is a former dean of humanities at the University of Cape Town, said he had become unpopular at UFH after he fired two academic staffers for corruption last month.
“More staffers, who are aware that I am coming for them, are now using the students to create chaos and paint the management as weak.
“This is not a mere student protest but a well-orchestrated move by academic staff members in connection with a certain faction in the SRC that want to sabotage UFH management.”
Buhlungu claimed there were two factions within the SRC that were sabotaging each other.
He said students leading the incidences of burning and looting were connected with corrupt individuals.
Buhlungu painted a dramatic picture of how students last Tuesday removed panels of a wooden roller door before leopard-crawling in and stealing everything that was inside the staff centre.
“Food, including cold drinks and meat, and utensils like crockery, cutlery and glasses … they just cleaned that building out,” Buhlungu said.
He said the students sabotaged a main sub-station, plunging the campus into total darkness before engaging in the criminal acts.
“They targeted the staff centre, which was mostly used as a dining area for staffers and also hosts events, and cleaned it out before torching it.”
On Monday night, the students tried to use the same strategy to cut the electricity supply, but a vigilant security guard shot and wounded one female student and arrested another after they were caught tampering with the power station.
Alice police spokeswoman Captain Siphokazi Nontshinga said the student would appear in the Alice Magistrate’s Court today on arson charges.
Buhlungu said: “The level and intensity of criminality on campus is just too much. Looking at the sheer magnitude of the damages, we are worried that the students might continue the rampage.
“We also now have the task of visiting the village and the owner of the cow to patch up our relations because this is the community that we live with.”
Protesting students yesterday afternoon agreed to continue their demonstration until Buhlungu “swallow his pride” and receive their memorandum of grievances personally.
Campus premier Lwandile Mgedezi said students made it clear they would not go back to classes until he met with them.
Mgedezi said Buhlungu was refusing any form of engagement with students.
“Students have been calling on him to come and he did not have time, but after last night’s incident, he had time.
“He was here in the morning walking around, assessing the damage. That’s what angers students. They feel he does not value them.”