Protesting students at the University of Witswatersrand (Wits) have once again clashed with the police, as their protest for free education turned violent at about midday on Tuesday.
This comes after clashes broke out at Wits on Monday and spilled out to Braamfontein after students pelted private security guards with stones on the main campus. A bus was torched, and a Puma shop was looted in Braamfontein.
The students have been protesting for about three weeks now, demanding free education under the campaign #FeesMustFall.
Their protest began after Minister of Higher Education Blade Nzimande announced on September 19 that universities could decide on their own whether to hike the fees for 2017, but should not exceed eight percent.
Tuesday began peacefully at the Braamfontein main campus of the university as classes resumed, with students looking keen to catch up on their academic work and cleanup operations well under way.
There was a heavy police presence and security guards protecting the property of the university and ensuring that teaching and learning progressed unhindered.
At about 9.20am, a few students began to gather outside the steps of the Great Hall, singing and chanting struggle songs.
Police officers then requested the students to send a three-member delegation to negotiate with them on how to conduct their protest.
After about half an hour, student leaders reported back to their fellow students and got instructions that the police should leave the campus if they wanted the protest to not turn violent.
But the police rejected this proposal, saying they were on campus to keep safety and security and not to fight students.
All these meetings were closed to the media, with students instructing journalists to keep a distance from their gathering.
Around 11.30am, #FeesMustFall leaders including former Wits SRC president Mcebo Dlamini and Economic Freedom Fighters’ Student Command member Vuyani Pambo were seen gathering the students around after the chanting had dissipated.
A large group of about 200 students then moved on to the university’s lecture halls, removing students who were in the middle of their studies. Police also began to form a tactical response and moved in to check the situation around the campus all the way to Gate E.
When the police returned in front of the Great Hall, students had broken down the concrete litter bins. A confrontation ensued, and police started firing stun grenades after students pelted them with stones.
This led to about an hour of running battles between police and students around the library lawns as police pushed the students back as far as the East Campus with a water cannon and rubber bullets.
Non-protesting students ran away in different directions when bullets went off. Students affiliated to #TakeWitsBack, those who are against the disruption of classes, said they would hold a media briefing later in the day.
But students returned and vandalised windows of The Matrix building, where they harvested a few shields to protest themselves.
By 2.30pm, sporadic throwing of stones and firing of stun grenades was still continuing on the campus, with no injuries being reported yet.
Meanwhile, a group of about six students also tried to disrupt a lecture on the Wits Education Campus in Parktown, but security stepped in, and they ran away.
A group of students also tried to close the entrance to the Wits Management Campus but dispersed when security and the police intervened. One student was reportedly arrested in that campus.
Wits spokesperson Shirona Patel said the university was committed to completing the 2016 academic year and to ensuring all students write examinations.
“We are doing our level best to ensure that lectures continue without disruption today. We also request staff and students to stay away from areas of conflict for their own safety,” Patel said in a statement.
UP students and police clash
University of Pretoria (UP) students displayed resistance outside the medical campus on Tuesday after numerous attempts by police to disperse them with pepper spray.
The students showed resilience, while some knelt in prayer, requesting the police to allow them to peacefully protest.
A female accounting student, Mumsy Mamabolo, sat on the road with an open Bible at the staff entrance to the Steve Biko Academic Hospital.
She was pepper sprayed by police along with another female student, Mathapelo Maganedisha, who had knelt in prayer at a traffic light. “I was praying for the evil that the police are placing upon us.
“They decided to manhandle me, even with my Bible. They tried to pepper spray me, but my eyes were closed. I assume my Jesus took over because I’ve got no pepper spray in my eyes,” Mamabolo said.
Maganedisha said she doesn’t know why police attacked her as she was just praying. “I even stood up and the police followed me and pepper sprayed me. I don’t know why.”
Students retaliated to the police ‘attacks’, with one captured in a video kicking an officer.
Law enforcement resorted to launching teargas and stun grenades to disperse the violent students. “We are retreating. We are going back to the main Hatfield campus to have a meeting. We don’t want to fight with police,” former Economic Freedom Fighters Student Command (EFFSC) leader Kabelo Mahlobogwane told The Citizen.
Earlier in the morning, two students were arrested at the Hatfield campus. Police could not yet confirm the reasons for arrest. UP vice-hancellor Cheryl de la Rey announced that the university would remain shut due to increased threats of violence.
“We hope to resume with classes on Wednesday… I want to stress, we remain committed to concluding the academic year and are currently working on alternative arrangements to ensure that students are able to complete the academic year.”
Durban Fees Must Fall march peaceful
About 1 500 students and supporters converged at Durban’s Curries Fountain Stadium ahead of a planned #FeesMustFall march on Tuesday.
Apart from an unconfirmed report that fire extinguishers were set off at the University of KwaZulu-Natal’s Howard College campus, no incidents were reported at the various tertiary institutions in Durban on Tuesday morning.
Lectures at the University of KwaZulu-Natal’s Howard College and Westville campuses resumed on Tuesday after they were suspended following violent protests on Monday.
There was heavy police presence at Howard College and Westville campuses. Speakers who addressed the students urged restraint and for the march to be peaceful.
It was understood the marchers were set to head to the Durban City Hall, where a memorandum of demands was due to be handed over.
Organisers said on Monday that students would march on the harbour. It was not immediately clear if this would materialise or if marchers had permission.
There was a heavy presence of Public Order Policing units, eThekwini Metro Police units, police officers on horses and various other police units.
Lectures at the Durban University of Technology also appeared to be continuing despite the march.
Wits students clash with police
Fresh clashes between the police and protesting Wits University students erupted just before lunchtime on Tuesday. It all just happened in a split second when irate protesters started hurling stones at the police and private security guards who were guarding the Great Hall. The police started firing rubber bullets and stun grenades at the protesters, who ran outside the main campus.
The clashes came minutes after activist Busisiwe Seabe told the media the protest action would continue until they are listened to. Tuesday’s violence came just a day after protesters went on a rampage, torching a bus while several shops were looted in Braamfontein.
Seabe said she was not going to reveal any information on their plan of action beyond Tuesday. There has also been an increased police presence at the main campus.
Protesting Wits students are currently meeting near the Great Hall, where they clashed with police and security guards yesterday. It is still unclear what they are busy discussing or what their plan of action will be for the day. The media was also asked to leave the meeting.
Meanwhile, giving an update on Tuesday morning, Wits said classes resumed and hoped that will be the case for the rest of the day.
A group of students tried to close the entrance to the Wits management campus. One student has been arrested. The university said it was doing everything possible to ensure that the current academic year is completed.
Police officers, mostly TRT members, were on Tuesday morning seen walking through the troubled Wits University main campus in Braamfontein. They were initially standing near the Great Hall, which was a hive of activity on Monday when protesting students clashed with the police and security guards. The police officers walked out of the university’s main entrance towards their operational centre.
The protesting students who assembled near the hall on Tuesday morning were having what seems to be a meeting to map the way forward regarding the protest action that has been going on for weeks. Although there had not been any violence on Tuesday morning, the campus remained tense, with a police chopper hovering above it.
Meanwhile, the EFF in Gauteng has also been calling on its members to offer solidarity in the struggle for free education. The party is planning a total shutdown of universities in the province.
President Jacob Zuma on Tuesday announced the setting up of a ministerial task team to help normalise the situation at the country’s university campuses, which have been rocked by violent protests in recent days.
In a statement, the Presidency said: “President Jacob Zuma has established a ministerial task team to assist the minister of higher education and training to normalise the situation at higher education institutions across South Africa, working with all stakeholders.”
The task team includes Minister in the Presidency for Planning, Monitoring and Evaluation, Jeff Radebe as convenor, Minister of Higher Education and Training Blade Nzimande, Minister of Science and Technology Naledi Pandor, Minister of Justice and Correctional Services Michael Masutha, Minister of Police Nathi Nhleko, Minister of State Security David Mahlobo, Minister of Defence and Military Veterans Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula and Minister of Home Affairs Malusi Gigaba.
“We urge all stakeholders including students, university management, parents and religious leaders to cooperate with the ministerial task team to ensure that the future of our children is not jeopardised,” said Zuma.
Government reiterated its full commitment to promoting access to higher education for children of the poor and the working class.
The statement added Zuma again condemned acts of violence and the destruction of property and urged all students to return to class while “solutions are collectively sought to the challenges of higher education in the country”.
Lectures resumed on Tuesday morning at the troubled University of Witwatersrand (Wits) amid heavy presence of police and private security guards.
Despite the violence on Monday that saw running battles between students, police and security guards, the university announced lectures would continue.
Cleaners were seen sweeping the floors and steps of the Great Hall, the site of Monday’s battle, while security guards ensured that the safety of the campus on Tuesday.
Protesting Wits students affiliated with #FeesMustFall have vowed to shut down the campus until their demands for free education are met.
Several other university campuses around South Africa also saw sporadic outbursts of violent protests, including in KwaZulu-Natal and the Western Cape.
Acting South African national police commissioner Khomotso Phahlane on Monday ruled out declaring a state of emergency following violent clashes between police and students at various university campuses.
Phahlane also lamented the levels of violence and vandalism accompanying the ongoing #FeesMustFall protests at South African universities, urging the students to exercise some restraint.
On Monday, running battles between protesting students and police as well as private security spilled over onto the streets of Braamfontein.
Most entrances to Wits reopened
Wits University was quiet, but a tense atmosphere still remained on Tuesday morning. This follows violent protest action on Monday, which also left a bus torched and several others injured, including a pastor who was shot in the face with a rubber bullet.
On Monday, protesting students marched through the main campus, disrupting lectures before hurling stones at the private security guards who were manning the Great Hall. A few minutes later, the police started firing rubber bullets and stun grenades, forcing the protesters off campus. While most entrances to the universities were reopened on Tuesday, police officers were seen driving around campus.
Students have been protesting for weeks now following an announcement by Higher Education and Training Minister Blade Nzimande that it was up to universities to determine tuition fee increases. Meanwhile, protest action is also expected to continue at other institutions of higher learning.
The EFF in Gauteng has called on its members to show solidarity towards what they called an unrelenting struggle for free education on Tuesday.