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South African University Campus Closes After Protesting Students Burn Down Buildings

North-West University said its Mafikeng campus had shut indefinitely following fires and violent demonstrations over a dispute regarding the presidency of the student council.

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A campus at a major university in South Africa announced it was closing indefinitely on Thursday after buildings were burnt by students when a protest turned violent, leading security to deploy tear gas and rubber bullets.

North-West University announced its Mafikeng campus was shutting its doors due to fire damage, in a statement attributed to Louis Jacobs, the acting executive director of institutional advancement, on Thursday morning.

Jacobs said the protests began during an inauguration for a newly appointed student council representative on Wednesday morning. It was interrupted by people allegedly belonging to the revolutionary socialist Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) party, who began singing and chanting during the ceremony, he said.


The protesters reportedly demanded the reinstatement of their suspended EFF student council president, Benz Mabengwane, who later arrived on campus to make an address. Describing the events that followed, Jacobs said:

Security deployed on campus then dispersed the crowd, which led to clashes between them and students.

Security had to use teargas and rubber bullets to get the situation under control. The students were pelting security with stones, which led to further reactions by them.

During the late afternoon, the situation flared up again and incidents were reported where students set fire to a motorcycle belonging to a staff member as well as a trailer belonging to the security company. It was also reported that the staff cafeteria was looted.

Students went on to set fire to various buildings on the campus, of which the administration building was the main target. This building was completely destroyed, along with all official records. Damages are estimated to run into millions of rands.

#NWUMafikeng the current situation

He added that the university believed arrests had been made, but was unable to give a formal account.

Another university spokesman, Koos Degenaar, told AP that the burned buildings included the administration block, a science building, and the residence of a dormitory supervisor. He added that students who live in the dormitories were being evacuated.

Jacobs said that rumours of a student being killed during clashes with security were false, but did say the university had received reports of students being injured.

A Facebook video purporting to be of security firing shots at protesters has circulated online, however the university denied anyone was shot with live ammunition, Eyewitness News reported.

South Africa has seen a rise in university protests in recent months, some of which have turned violent.

Also this week, two University of Pretoria campuses had to close their doors following protests over its policy surrounding the Afrikaans language, Eyewitness News reported.


Francis Whittaker is a homepage editor for BuzzFeed News and is based in London.

Contact Francis Whittaker at francis.whittaker@buzzfeed.com.

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