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Five KZN campuses closed after prospective students ‘invade’

The Durban University of Technology (DUT) on Wednesday closed its five KwaZulu-Natal campuses until further notice after scores of prospective students descended on its main campus a day earlier in the hopes of being accepted to study.  

DUT said that a “significant number” of prospective students had gathered at the Steve Biko Sports Centre overnight and had refused to leave. The students allegedly became violent when asked to vacate the campus.  

In a statement released on Tuesday, university management said it had been battling with the registration of first-time students. Part of the reason was that some students had challenges with the online registration system. 

In order to make up for the “slow pace” in the registration process, the institution extended the registration period to Friday, among other remedies. 

“As part of the strategies to deal with this slow challenge with FTEN (first time entering)  registrations, the university decided to decentralise the on-campus registration support, in order to assist those applicants who were struggling to complete their online registration.

“Many of those who had required assistance with their online registration had either experienced internet access challenges at their homes or they had faced delays due to funding concerns. The on-campus support facilities were specifically implemented to assist this group of students, many of whom were FTEN students,” read the statement. 

But while the university was working to remedy the situation, hoax messages purporting to be from the institution circulated on social media inviting prospective students to make their way to the campuses. 

“The unauthorised social media and fake text message invitations resulted in a large scale influx of persons onto the campuses today [Tuesday] . Following the violation of the Covid-19 guidelines as a result of the campus invasion by a large number of people this morning and considering the related risks to health, safety and security, the university has decided to immediately suspend on-campus support for online registration. Thus, for the time being, all registration continues strictly online from whatever points registrants may choose.”

Even before Covid-19, universities have discouraged walk-ins for prospective students. This is after the death of Gloria Sekwana in 2012, who died in a stampede outside of the University of Johannesburg, where she had accompanied her son to apply for a space to study. 

On Wednesday afternoon, DUT announced that it had closed all of its five campuses after a large group of prospective students “invaded the Sports Centre on the Steve Biko campus”. 

“Overnight, a significant number of people continued to occupy the Sports Centre and refused the request to leave campus. Over the course of this morning, the situation escalated with protesters milling around outside the Steve Biko campus, hurling stones at buildings, damaging university property, barricading public roads, including several attempts to invade more buildings on campus,” the DUT’s media officer, Simangele Zuma, said in a statement. 

IOL reported that some of the people gathered at the sports centre were not wearing masks nor social distancing and there were fears that their gathering was a potential Covid-19 super spreader. 

This comes as Higher Health, an agency of the department of higher education, science and innovation to safeguard student health and wellbeing, has warned of a third wave as a result of student cluster Covid-19 outbreaks. 

The chief executive of Higher Health, Professor Ramneek Ahluwalia, last week said the current outbreaks across some universities were worrying. 

Ahluwalia said Higher Health had been working with higher education and training institutions, the department of health, the National Institute for Communicable Diseases and the National Health Laboratory Service to establish cluster outbreak investigation teams. In the past fortnight, more than 3 000 students and staff had been screened and contact traced, and more than 300 people tested.

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