One of the university's buildings burns on Wednesday as management ordered all students to 'leave immediately' / @syndicalisms via Twitter

University council to look into allegations 'non-students and outside interests' instigated on-campus violence and vandalism which saw buildings and vehicles severely damaged

A South African university which was forced to close when student protesters set fire to vehicles and buildings after the institution dissolved its Student Representative Council (SRC) and suspended its head has released the conclusion into a disciplinary hearing.

Administrators at North-West University’s (NWU) Mafikeng campus, in the city of Potchefstroom, have stated that Linda ‘Benz’ Mabengwane - former Campus Student Representative Council (CSRC) president - was officially informed on Thursday he is suspended from NWU for a period of three years.

The university said on Friday it has also notified all other higher education institutions throughout South Africa of Mr Mabengwane’s penalty.

Revealing the conclusion in a statement, campus spokesman Koos Degenaar said the hearing found against Mr Mabengwane on “five of the six charges brought against him.”

He continued: “These include the disruption of the registration process at the Mafikeng campus on 25 January, the assault of a fellow student on the same day, wilfully bringing the name of the university into disrepute by interfering with the rights of co-students - in respect of the registration process - and in direct violation of the court interdict, interfering with the managerial functions of the management of the Mafikeng campus, and engaging with the media on topics or activities that were designed to bring the NWU into disrepute.”

The only charge Mr Degenaar said Mr Mabengwane was cleared of was for interfering with the registration process on 18 January.

Chaotic scenes surfaced on social media on Wednesday after campus administrators ordered all students to leave the campus “immediately for their own safety, and return home” as a result of widespread fire damage to various buildings.

Mr Degenaar said the campus had been closed “indefinitely,” adding: “It is likely to take a considerable period of time to restore operations. Students will be given at least a month’s notice of the re-opening of the campus.”

Trouble began to brew at Mafikeng on Wednesday after university heads alleged a group known as the Economic Freedom Fighters Students Command (EFF) - along with supporters of the dissolved CSRC - disrupted an event which saw the inauguration of the new 

However, it was when the suspended Mr Mabengwane arrived at Mafikeng and began to speak with a group of students that on-campus security dispersed the crowd, leading to clashes between both parties. Mr Degenaar said security had to use teargas and rubber bullets “to get the situation under control,” adding: “The students were pelting security with stones, which led to further reactions by them.”

In a statement, EFF Students Command spokesman Peter Keetse said university management “has itself to blame on this crisis because they did not respond accordingly to the burning issues of the students.” He added: “It furthermore has blood on its hands and must account to the students who were brutalised by the private security they brought on campus.

“They have arrogantly and unconstitutionally removed the democratically elected Student Representative Council from office.

“When democracy is replaced by authoritarian system, events of this nature eventually occur.”

Speaking with South African news site The Citizen on Thursday, Mr Mabengwane described how students had asked him to speak outside the inauguration, but university management called in security to “come and manhandle them.”

He said: “They asked me to address them and I did exactly that. I said to them they must know that an appointed leadership can lead to dictatorship.”

The former CSRC president also said he didn't care about being fired, adding: “They will never kill our ideas.”

The executive committee (Exco) of the NWU Council announced on Thursday it intends to “obtain full information” on what happened, including looking into allegations that “non-students and outside interests” instigated violence and vandalism.

Exco also said it will look into the role played by on-campus security, and the steps taken by campus management to monitor and manage the situation.

A council spokesperson said: “Exco calls on all concerned to act in a way worthy of members of a tertiary academic institution.”

Mr Degenaar said Mr Mabengwane has been informed that he has the right to appeal against the disciplinary process, the guilty finding of the committee and/or the disciplinary sanction imposed upon him. He concluded: “Such an appeal must reach the office of the campus registrar within five working days after the notice has been served on him.”

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