Students go hungry as protests rage

By Drum Digital
05 October 2016

As protests rage, students go hungry and struggle to meet their daily basic needs.

There’s an untold story unfolding at the University of Witwatersrand, amid the #FeesMustFall protests.

Canteens are shut and students who are on campus don’t have any food to eat. Toilets are without water and toilet paper, students don’t have toiletries for their daily hygiene and female students don’t have sanitary towels.

“People see the protest in the media and the violence. We march the whole day in the sun and are harassed by the police and students can’t afford to take care of their basic needs,”’ says Fasiha Hassan, Wits SRC Secretary General.

On social media, students have been accused of being lazy to write exams and been called hooligans and ungrateful. But Hassan tells DRUM that she thinks the public is not getting the bigger picture.

“On average a university degree will cost about R150 000, and this does not include money for transport, living expenses and textbooks. A 0 % [fee increase] increment for the poor and an 8 % cap for those who can afford it is not enough. Tertiary education is very expensive,” she says.

Hassan says they are marching for the future generations of young South Africans who will struggle to get an education in an unequal society.

“We are marching for future generations to come so that there can be a material change in poor people’s lives. We don’t understand why Government says they don’t know why we are protesting. They know. Our society is unequal and now students are being polarised based on class,” she states.

Hassan reveals that up to 30 students at Wits University have been arrested in the 2016 protests and they don’t know how to go about getting sufficient legal assistance, particularly for those who have been brutally assaulted by the police.

“One of the students was hit with a stun grenade yesterday and sustained burn injuries. We want to sue the police commissioner,” she says. “Our protests often begin peacefully, but when the police arrive on the scene it’s like they want a fight and suddenly stun grenades are going off,” she says.

Hassan says there’s only one way to fight back. “We obviously look for ways to protect ourselves and the best way is to pick up a rock. It’s rocks versus bullets out there.”

“Last year’s protests were not like this, it has become brutal and aggressive.”

On Tuesday night, students were holding a night vigil until they got into an altercation with security forces – it was then that petrol bombs started flying.

“We are concerned for every student, all over the country. 11 students were arrested at the University of Johannesburg Soweto Campus today, and we don’t know what conditions they are facing behind bars.” Hassan says students are tired of talking in forums and meetings and it’s time for Government to take action. She says free education is not impossible, and the protestors are willing to prove it.  


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