Cheers as violence erupts on sports field

“One of the most disturbing scenes I have witnessed in post-apartheid SA”


Posted by Khotso Modise on Monday, 22 February 2016

The wave of outsourcing protests across the country hit the Bloemfontein campus of the University of the Free State (UFS) on Thursday, 18 February. These peaceful demonstrations were a bid by contractual workers to continue negotiation talks with the university management after futile attempts to gain permanent contracts.

Things took a violent turn after protesters were attacked at a rugby field. The Journalist contributor, Linda Fekisi, was in the stands.

I’m standing inside Xerox Shimla Park stadium at the UFS. A rugby game between the UFS (FNB Shimlas) and the NMMU (FNB Madibaz) is currently underway. It is the annual Varsity Cup that attracts widespread media coverage. I’m not sure which team is which though. I have no interest in this game. It’s the last thing on my mind.

I was aware that protesters would soon make their way onto the field. I had seen about 50 of them argue their way into the stadium entrance earlier.

Things take a drastic turn 19 minutes into the game as protesters begin walking onto the field singing jubilantly. The players move out of the way. The protestors are young and old, male and female. They are students and workers.
I see a few spectators approach the protestors who are holding hands. Their intention, it seems, was to ask the protesters to move so that the game could go on.

I bend my head to compose a tweet. I look up onto the rugby field a few seconds after that to collect my thoughts. My eyes are met with one of the most disturbing scenes I have witnessed to date in democratic South Africa.

White spectators, mostly dressed in their red varsity cup t-shirts, are beginning to storm onto the field from various directions. They are heading towards the protestors who have now formed semi-circle holding hands. By now, I can’t hear the words to the famous protest song about Solomon Mahlangu. My ears are filled with cheers from the stands and comments from the students on the stands nearby.

On the field, spectators are now physically attacking the protesters. They have now outnumbered the protesters and are receiving standing ovations and cheers from the benches.

I see a male protester being thrown into the air. He had barely touched the ground before spectators swarmed around him to continue the physical assault. They were kicking him repeatedly. His fellow protesters, also experiencing the same fate, start running off the field. The rest of what happened is blurry.

“They shouldn’t have come here,” shouts a bystander to her friend. “They shouldn’t have come because this is the one place where they know we all come together,” she continues.

What is she talking about? What is happening here?

Feeling anxious and unsafe, I make my way out of Xerox Shimla Park walking away from a moment that will remain imprinted on my mind for years to come. For once, I cannot deny that this incident is a reflection of the racial tensions that have simmered so long on campus. I cannot ignore that race remains a central factor in our daily lives at the UFS.

Members of campus media – IrawaPost, Kovsie FM and Kovsie TV combined with the The Journalist’s Free State circle to tell stories of the ongoing protests.