Police have become the piggy in the middle during student protests - ISS

2016-10-05 13:23
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Johannesburg - The police have become the piggy in the middle during the ongoing student protests, says senior researcher at the Institute for Security Studies, Johan Burger.

"Students' grievances are not directed at police, but at government. It's an impossible situation. [Acting National Commissioner Lieutenant General Khomotso Phahlane's] statement that its top leadership should be involved gives an impression that police are aware of the danger of a prolonged deployment at university campuses. This is encouraging and it's a clear indication that police are fully aware how dangerous the situation could be," he said.

On Tuesday evening, Phahlane told the media that he had directed senior management to take control of Fees Must Fall protests.

Phahlane added that, during a meeting with the police, they emphasised that officers should exercise maximum restraint, but also perform their duties within the bounds of the law.

Burger said there were groups of students who had become radical and could cause major problems for the police.

"We have no idea how small the real radical groups are, but they exist. We see that they prepare themselves for violence with petrol bombs and they use them, which shows an element of preparation. The police find themselves in an impossible position," Burger said.

Violent situations

Burger said there was a need for police to be cautious when confronted by the current student protests.

He said police needed to be aware that there might be radical elements who hoped for a violent situation to develop.

"Fortunately, the police are clear and they are making certain they avoid such a situation."

On Monday, during the higher education summit, Wits University vice chancellor Adam Habib warned Police Minister Nathi Nhleko that some students were calling for their own version of the Marikana massacre to advance their cause for free education.

On Tuesday night, a voice recording surfaced where an unknown woman's voice could be heard saying that some protesting Wits University students would be targeting white students to ensure that their cause was taken seriously.

In the recording, the woman says: "These Fees Must Fall protesters are saying that the way Habib is handling the situation is very arrogant. They are saying that in order to get Habib's attention, one white student must die."

Students arrested

Burger, however, said he did not find this worrying. He said students were frustrated that they were not taken seriously by authorities because they were black.

"What they are implying is that as long as there are black students that are targeted, the authorities are not concerned, but if white students were targeted it would cause a reaction. They are implying to the authorities that it looks to them that they don't see this matter seriously enough because it's mostly black students."

On Tuesday, students and police clashed as Wits University reopened its doors. Seventeen students were arrested.

Police fired rubber bullets and teargas at students after they attempted to break a police chain. Some students then threw stones at officers.

International relations lecturer David Hornsby was injured during the protests. Wits spokesperson Shirona Patel said it appeared that he had been outside with the protesters. He had a bandage on his head, but she did not know the extent of his injuries.

Protesters broke the back window of a police vehicle. According to well-placed sources within the emergency medical service, casualties included both police officers and protesters.

Campus shutdowns

A police officer was brought to the emergency room at Milpark Hospital. The sources told News24 that a high-ranking police officer had sustained a serious head wound when he was struck by a brick.

Two other officers were also injured in the melee. Ten others, understood to be students, were rushed to hospital.

News24 understands that police officers have opened a case of assault. Police could not immediately be reached for comment.

Student protesters have periodically shut down a number of campuses nationwide as they called for free education following an announcement by Higher Education Minister Blade Nzimande that fees would increase by no more than 8% for those from households that could afford it.

Read more on:    iss  |  johan burger  |  university protests  |  university fees

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