Churches call for halt to hostilities

2016-10-23 06:00
Father Graham Pugin of the Holy Trinity Catholic Church, alongside student leader Busisiwe Seabe. (Picture: Leon Sadiki)

Father Graham Pugin of the Holy Trinity Catholic Church, alongside student leader Busisiwe Seabe. (Picture: Leon Sadiki)

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The SA Council of Churches (SACC) has called for a cease-fire, even if for a week, in the continuing violent protests by students demanding free tertiary education.

SACC general secretary Reverend Mpumlwana said students and universities must “scale down” to allow space for a “proper engagement” to find an effective solution.

“The idea is that everybody must find an answer to what is the best way to fund education in a meaningful way for the long term. We are calling for restraint. We are appealing to students and government to exercise restraint.”

His call came as students appear to have been re-energised by the several arrests and injuries sustained by their peers across the country.

Students have vowed that they would continue in their resolve to bring the 2016 academic year to a complete standstill until their demands of free education are met.

Last week saw several more arrests of students, including #FeesMustFall student leader Mcebo Dlamini of Wits University. He was denied bail.

Acting Police National Commissioner Kgomotso Phahlane said almost 600 arrests had been made in connection with the protests.

Phahlane also called on his frustrated police units to exercise restrain following reports that some officers fired rubber bullets repeatedly at students and caused serious injuries to some.

Mpumlwana said the prolonged protests, which started six weeks ago, was not a matter for police and students. He condemned police for what he called “frightening signs of police brutality which may be traced from a measure of frustration but it could also be that they really intend to be brutal and we don’t want that”.

Mpumlwana further said that the action of the police, which included allegations of brutality, abduction and heavy-handedness, was a provocation and an “apartheid–style operation”.

“Therefore, there are rogue elements within the police doing these kinds of things.”

The SACC has been involved in talks with students, universities and the government to help find a solution to the impasse.

The spotlight was once again on Wits University this week.

Student leader Vuyani Pambo told City Press they were working on an urgent court appeal – possibly to be brought on Wednesday – to bring about Dlamini’s release.

“The arrest of Mcebo and injuries to others have re-energised and re-mobilised the movement,” Pambo said.

He said police brutality against students has been happening since the protests began, and was only hyped-up now because of the arrest and assault of prominent leaders.

Johannesburg Magistrate Albertus Roux refused Dlamini bail, saying it would not be in the interests of justice to release him.

This prompted students to make threats to disrupt lectures and take their protests into the streets.

Also, student leader Shaaera Kalla was shot several times with rubber bullets on Thursday.

For the past five weeks, students have been in the streets calling for “free, quality, decolonised education” amid a trail of destruction of property at universities and nearby businesses.

Universities have been in a frantic bid to try and save the academic year.

The University of the Western Cape and the University of Cape Town have cancelled face-to-face lectures for undergraduates and some faculties, respectively, for the rest of the year.

Wits University said on Friday a plan had been put into place to ensure exams went ahead without disruptions using an “extensive security plan”.

A university spokesperson has insisted the university’s operational control at security level was in the hands of the police who in turn have denied this.

Pambo said they would not reveal their plan of action for the coming week as their plans were constantly being countered by police intelligence and university management.

Students at various universities say they have been aware of the presence of intelligence operatives on their campuses and following them even off campus.

A student was interrogated by agents who told him they were aware of his involvement and wanted to know where he received his resources from.

Another student leader who has not been involved in protest action – and labelled a sellout as a result – said agents asked for his assistance to identify key leaders of the protests.

They offered him accommodation at a “safe house” if he was willing to assist them. He says he refused.

On Thursday, Cabinet resolved that Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan, Human Settlements Minister Lindiwe Sisulu, Social Development Minister Bathabile Dlamini and Communications Minister Faith Muthambi be included in the ministerial task team mandated to “stabilise” universities.

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