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Students set fire to own residence

Durban – A group of University of KwaZulu-Natal students have been slapped with a court interdict instructing them to behave, following several fires in their private residence near Durban’s beachfront.

The owners of the 10-storey building, which is home to 672 students, now want an order evicting those involved and are seeking a further order that the university provides alternative accommodation for them.

The university has filed a notice of its intention to oppose. The matter has been adjourned in the Durban High Court until September.

Thekweni Properties Pty Ltd owns the building, once the Lonsdale Hotel, in Pixley KaSema Road (formerly West Street). In a document before the court, the company names the 24 members of the “housing committee”. It says it has evidence that two of them purchased petrol from a nearby petrol station on the night of the first fire.

Shamim Ramjeewon, the company’s property manager, says in an affidavit that at 01:00 on August 2, she was told there was a fire raging in the building. The fire brigade managed to put it out, despite students cutting off the water supply. One quarter of the fourth floor, comprising a storage area containing beds, fridges, and other items worth about R400 000, was destroyed.

“I was advised by a fire department official that the fire was a result of arson. SAPS and Metro police were on the scene. However, due to the aggressive and violent conduct of the students inside, they told us they could not assist us in gaining entrance. The students only allowed the firemen in.”

Ramjeewon says the following evening “various fires” were set throughout the building. Security guards used fire extinguishers to put these out.

“The students broke all the internal windows, they accessed the administration office and looted it, completely destroying all equipment. They broke all internal lights, leaving common areas and stairwells in darkness.”

She says police refused to do anything to stabilise the situation.

Ramjeewon says if there were more fires, there was a real risk of serious injury or even loss of life, given that the company had been denied access to the building, and because there were no lights in the common area and the lifts were not working.

“We have no idea about the safety or state of the internal premises because members of the housing committee, who have previously caused damage to the premises, have made threats against our lives. We are in fear of trying to enter.”

She says the heads of housing at the university had said they had no way of resolving the situation and would not help.

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