The University of Johannesburg’s 1000 seater auditorium was destroyed by a fire which has caused an estimated R100 million in damages.

By Kyle Oberholzer and Nadia Omar

During the early hours of Monday morning a fire at the University of Johannesburg’s Kingway campus destroyed the 1000-seater main auditorium.

“At about 01:40 a report came through saying there was a fire at UJ [University of Johannesburg], we responded to the scene and have since filed a case of arson,” said the warrant officer in charge, Gordon Billing.

According to SAPS, no witnesses have come forward and no arrests have been made at this point.

A forensic services processing team arrived at the scene at about 11:00 and began investigations to determine the source and type of fuel used to start the fire.

According to a press briefing given by deputy vice chancellor of strategic services, Mpho Letlabe, “the arsonists who caused an estimated R100 million worth of damage to the main auditorium of UJ will be found and jailed.” Also destroyed were computer laboratories, including equipment used to conduct career assessment and guidance for students and prospective students. Nobody was injured but the building has effectively been “gutted”.

In a statement released on Monday morning, UJ vice chancellor Professor Ihron Rensburg vowed to prosecute the perpetrators as harshly as possible.

“We will do anything in our power, and in co-operation with the authorities, to track these criminals down, prosecute them, and send them to prison for as long as possible,” said Rensburg.

Rethabile Ntshinga, chairman of the UJ SRC, told Wits Vuvuzela that he is disappointed in the institution.

“The university has been spending millions on external security forces but they failed to capture the fire in time and as a result the auditorium burnt down,” said Ntshinga. According to the Ntchinga, there are about 50 security guards patrolling at night, some are stationed right outside the auditorium, their response time is “pathetic”.

Erastus Boshoff, the second student to tweet images of the burnt auditorium, told Wits Vuvuzela, that he arrived at the building after his tutor, who lives on campus, said she had smelt smoke near the building. “I was shocked to see the building had burnt down. Why would anyone do something like this? I don’t understand?”

Midyear exams, scheduled to take place in the computer laboratories, and a number of graduations ceremonies due to take place in the auditorium have been directly affected by the attack. According to Letlabe, alternative arrangements, which will “inconvenience” students and graduates alike, are being made.

Nevertheless, the university will remain open and continue with business as usual.

“We will not give this small group of criminals the pleasure of disrupting teaching, learning or research at UJ,” said Rensburg.