[intro]Last week The Journalist ran a story by Linda Fekisi telling how protesting students entered through an open gate into the precincts of Parliament. The gate was then closed and a part of the crowd, cut off from the rest, were trapped and attacked by police. Today we find out from young people who were there what happened when a peaceful, legitimate protest turned ugly. The Journalist is disgusted by the spurious and cynical allegations that the Fees Must Fall campaign is an attempt to overthrow the state.[/intro]
What initially began as peaceful protests outside Parliament against an increase in university tuition fees ended in violent clashes between students and police last Wednesday, October 21.
A student from the Fees Must Fall movement, who was present during the clashes, shared her experiences with The Journalist.
“I was not there the entire day,” said the student, who asked to be identified only as Vuvu.* “I was one of the people who facilitated transport to Parliament.
“We were made aware that police were stopping the Jamie buses on De Waal Drive, instructing people to walk and threatening to arrest people. People were told that bail was going to be R1 500 and that the drivers would have to pay R20 000 fines if they did not comply.”
Vuvu said she arrived outside Parliament shortly after 1pm: “There was an address by some of the students and then we dispersed. Shortly after that the gates to Parliament, which were initially closed opened.
“Some of the details are quite blurry now, but we went into Parliament from a gate that was opened on Plein Street.
The police started pushing us with their shields. I fell over and at the time I remember thinking that I was going to get crushed because people were rushing in a panic. That is when the stun grenades went off.”
Watch one of the dramatic moments riot police used stun grenades to disperse protesting students outside the National Assembly.
Posted by News24.com on Wednesday, 21 October 2015
Several videos such as the above went viral during the past week. They show visuals of police officers firing stun grenades at students on the premises of Parliament – for the first time in South Africa’s history.
Vuvu recalls sitting down and singing Senzeni na with her fellow students during Friday’s protest: “The stun guns went off shortly again after that. It was so hectic. I still have the residue that hurt my skin.
“It was a very traumatic day. To see your friends being beaten up by the police is very traumatic.”
So they specifically targeted Chumani Maxwele as he was trying to calm down the crowd. I have no doubt that this was an order given. You specifically see him being pulled in, and that's what causes the entire scene. This video tells the entire story of how politicians use cops as dogs.
Posted by Mohammed Jameel Abdulla on Wednesday, 21 October 2015
Other videos, like the one above, show how the police officers on duty appeared to be selective in deciding which students to arrest.
“Things are becoming scary,” Vuvu added. “Chumani [Maxwele] and others are being charged for treason. You have the Sunnyside 7 [, who were arrested near the Union Buildings last Friday], and you have accusations on media and social media about toppling the State, a coup d’etat, and this is scary because these are all lies.”
The Journalist subsequently sent questions to Parliament requesting clarity on the events last Wednesday. The response was that Parliament and its Presiding Officers do not direct police operations around Parliament.
Police Refuse to Comment
Questions were then sent to the SAPS on Monday. In response, it sent the email below:
“The SAPS has taken [a] decision not to comment on or provide any information on police action during the student protests. We have initially been communicating updates as incidents, arrests, etc, unfolded and we found that this was dominating the media space, whereas the actual reason for the protests should be taking up this space.
“In regards to the arrests that were effected thus far, the suspects have appeared in court and the communication thereof now rests with the National Prosecuting Authority.
“Unless there is something significant we will neither be commenting nor providing any details around the student protests.”
Public Has A Right to Know
Speaking on behalf of the Institute for Security Studies, Dr Johan Burger told The Journalist that he regarded the police refusal to comment as unacceptable:
“The public has the right to know why the police acted in a particular way,” he said.
He believes that the police have a coonstitutional responibilty but that they did not act responsibly and with sufficient pre-emptive intelligence and responsibly, last Wednesay.
Burger added: “In this particular incident, the police also have an extra responsibility to protect Parliament as a national key point. What now remains to be asked regarding their actions is whether they acted with the necessary restraint and the kind of police responsibility that one would expect under the circumstances, given the fact that we are dealing with students and a largely legitimate reason for protesting.
I would say that from some of the video footage that we saw show that the police, in some specific instances, did not respond with restraint in the circumstances,” he said.
Burger believes that these actions show that the police were not adequately prepared:
“They did not have sufficient numbers on the ground in order for them to use other methods of keeping the students out of the grounds of Parliament rather than using force. They should have sent in a sufficient number of trained police so that they did not have to revert to unnecessary violent methods,” he said.
The students went to Parliament last Wednesday to submit a list of demands to Higher Education Minister Blade Nzimande during Finance Minister Nhlanhla Nene’s presentation of the Mid-Term Budget.
“We went to call for free education, for a zero percent increase and for an end to outsourcing,” said Vuvu.
Two days later, on October 23, President Jacob Zuma announced that there would be a zero percent increase in tertiary education fees.
Despite this, Vuvu and her fellow students do not regard this as a victory: “While we welcome the 0% increase, many of us can’t afford the current fees. We didn’t only say there shouldn’t be an increase. We said fees must fall. What President Zuma proposed was an attempt to neutralise the students.
“We are calling for free education. People have been calling for this since the Freedom Charter was drafted [in 1955]. Our government is not holding themselves to this promise. We are not accepting this.”
*Not the real name of the student.