Mayhem at UCT


Campus blocked, classes disrupted and no clarity on what happens next

Photo of protesters on M3
Protesters marched from Observatory to UCT’s medical school, then onto the M3 highway and onto upper campus where they disrupted classes. Photo: Ashraf Hendricks

In the early morning, from at least 6am, protesters blocked the main entrances to the University of Cape Town (UCT). There were a few police and private security officers on hand but they did not make any serious attempt to break the blockade of campus. On two occasions a barricade across the main road entering campus was taken down by private security officers, but within minutes it was back up. As the morning proceeded cars attempting to enter campus were turned around by campus protection officers.

Late last night vice-chancellor Max Price sent an email to the UCT community saying that a mediation process with the protesting students “concluded without resolution”. Price wrote: “We are therefore faced with the following choice: opening the university with the necessary security or compromising the academic project for the rest of the year.” He said that UCT would be “fully open” on Monday. “We will use the minimum private security required to ensure the safety of all students and staff.” 

At about 6:30 am two computer science students who tried to walk up an embankment to get to their department were threatened by a protester: “There will be a bigger problem for you if you go inside.” However, eventually many students did manage to find their way to University Avenue, the location of UCT’s main lecture theatres. Many waited outside their lecture theatres. A despondent physics student said to

Read the views of students who wanted UCT to re-open.

When a GroundUp reporter tried to get close to the protesters to take a photograph, they warned her to go away. 

As lectures started, protesters set off building alarms and entered lecture theatres, singing. Many lectures had to stop, though some resumed when protesters left. The libraries were closed and the university’s student transport system, the


GroundUp had six reporters at UCT at one point. Except for the incident described below, we did not witness any attempt by students who wished to attend classes to antagonise the protesters. However the student in the video below, identified by a GroundUp Twitter follower as an engineering student, tried to taunt the protesters. Besides what’s shown in the video he also called the protesters “peasants”. He was verbally abusive to one of our reporters, saying: “Who you looking at, bitch?”. He then made masturbation movements at her. When she asked him his name, he replied, “Fuck off.”

Video: Zoe Schaver

At the same time as much of this was happening, about 150 protesters marched from Observatory to UCT’s School of Public Health (medical school), where they recruited more people. Led by suspended UCT student 

It is difficult to accurately estimate the number of protesters who were on campus, but it appears to have been in the region of 300 once the protesting groups merged, and this was also the estimate of a campus protection officer who spoke to GroundUp.

Video: Diana Mellow

An interesting event was an outdoor meeting held by students and faculty of UCT’s School of Architecture. They gathered to discuss the shutdown. Students and faculty shared views. One student said that being black is “hard as hell” and “such a difficult thing to explain” that having a forum might not even be the best way to capture the experience of many students. “I’m tired of having conversations that go nowhere,” she said. “I’m worried that this [forum] will be that.”

Another student told

Twice the meeting was interrupted by protesters, who entered chanting and holding signs. Students talked with the protesters, asking and responding to questions.

Video: Diana Mellow

At one point security were guarding the entrance to the Law faculty. However, some black students complained that the guards were only allowing in white students even though they, the black students, were not part of the protest. They eventually left. (GroundUp cannot confirm if racial profiling did in fact take place.)

This afternoon UCT released a statement saying: “Six people were arrested for disrupting a lecture … The six were warned that their actions were unlawful and that they should leave the premises. They refused and were arrested. They were taken to a police station and charges are being laid. If they are found to be UCT students, disciplinary action, including possible suspension, will follow.”

The statement further said that the UCT executive was attempting to manage the situation on campus with a joint operations team that included the Campus Protection Services and SAPS. “Our intention is to use security as a last resort in all cases.”

Price urged staff and students to “continue operations as best they can and to avoid situations of conflict.”

Also this afternoon, the protesters dispersed. They are intending to reconvene at the Steve Biko student union in the evening. It appeared as though lectures had stopped for the day as well.

A group of students gathered to pray early morning, near where protesters blockaded the northern entrance to UCT.

This article has been updated as the day progressed.

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TOPICS:  Tertiary Education

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