South African education minister Kader Asmal has threatened to close Durban's Mangosuthu Technikon if striking staff and the vice-chancellor fail to resolve an 18-month dispute.
Staff went on strike at the end of the summer holidays in January after disciplinary action against vice-chancellor Aaron Ndlovu was dropped and he was reinstated. Some of 5,000 registered students claim they have had no lectures this year.
Five students were arrested on the campus last week following allegations that they intimidated other students. Police used teargas to disperse hundreds more protesting against the lack of lectures during the teacher strike. Staff also protested, against Professor Ndlovu's reinstatement.
Police spokesman Captain Vish Naidoo said the students had been arrested and charged with intimidation after public order police were asked by campus security to intervene. He said not all of those causing trouble had been students.
In late February, Mr Asmal wrote to the chair of the technikon council, Obed Mlaba, and to Mr Ndlovu, saying that the situation on campus had reached crisis point and that the interests of students were being seriously compromised by lack of teaching.
"The technikon council, as the governing authority of the institution, is required to provide the necessary leadership and to find ways to resolve the difficulties," he wrote, urging it to find lasting solutions that would restore the technikon's integrity as a higher education institution. "Failure to resolve the tension will leave me with no alternative but to consider, among other measures, closure of the technikon."
Professor Asmal also ordered the council to meet with the National Union of Technikon Employees of South Africa. Louise Marais, chair of the local branch of the union, said the strike could have been averted as the union had been prepared to talk from the first day.
Among its main problems with Professor Ndlovu, she said, were his "method of administration, financial management and the suspension of staff without pay".
The vice-chancellor has had many clashes with staff in recent years and was suspended in January last year after allegedly failing to comply with employment procedures, for alleged misappropriation of funds, taking unilateral decisions and delaying the employment of academic staff.
Last week, Mr Mlaba, who is also mayor of Durban, announced after a meeting with Professor Asmal that a facilitator would be appointed to try to resolve the five-week impasse between the council and striking staff.
But, he said, the position of the vice-chancellor was not a labour issue. He called on staff to voice their grievances through prescribed procedures.
Meanwhile, temporary staff have been appointed to ensure smooth running of the technikon, which will make up for lost study time by moving exam dates.