Phiyega warned Parliament about security before #FeesMustFall

2015-11-04 13:33
(Jenna Etheridge, News24)

(Jenna Etheridge, News24)

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Cape Town - Suspended national police commissioner Riah Phiyega had warned as early as 2013 that Parliament's security was not adequate, the portfolio committee on police heard on Tuesday.

Police had to explain their reaction when students tried to storm Parliament on October 21, during the #FeesMustFall campaign.

- Watch: Riot police use stun grenades to disperse protesting students outside National Assembly

On Tuesday, police explained they pushed back students by using stun grenades, batons and pepper spray, but that no teargas or rubber bullets were used.

The police's head of specialised operations Major General Charl Annandale showed the committee a letter Phiyega wrote to the Department of Public Works on December 12, 2013, and which was received in February 2014, in which she expressed concern over the lack of proper checkpoints and the need to upgrade security at the precinct.

But, Annandale said, “The status quo remains.”

On the day of the attempted storming, they were taken by surprise by a group that had been protesting peacefully until they split into two groups and managed to breach security.

"Most of the information we received was on social media, there was no formal notice of the gathering," Annandale said.

Students demanding a 0% increase in fees had started protesting at Wits University a few days before, and soon the protests spread around the country.

From peaceful to violent

On October 21, students began arriving at noon, and were considered "peaceful" as they gathered around the statue of Louis Botha at the top of Plein Street.

At 12:19 police recorded that a single tyre was set alight on the road. The deputy secretary of Parliament came out but was unable to identify any leaders in the group, but a woman had told the delegation that they wanted Minister of Finance Nhlanhla Nene to address them.

They were still considered peaceful as they sang and danced outside Parliament, but then they split into groups.

- Read more: The moment students broke through Parliament's gates

At 14:14, a "splinter group" forced its way in through Plein Street and another through the Spin Street entrances.

The groups were given verbal warnings in English and isiXhosa and responded violently, said Annandale, and they retaliated by throwing rocks and bottles at the police.

Annandale said they then pushed the students back by using 21 grenades, their batons, shields, two smoke canisters and three pepper spray canisters.

Six arrests were made in the precinct, and 23 outside the precinct.

Nobody was injured, according to the police report.

17 complaints of police brutality

In an earlier briefing by the Independent Police Investigative Directorate, acting director Israel Kgamanyane said they received 17 complaints against the police over the three weeks of student protests.

This included assault with intent to cause grievous bodily harm, common assault, and complaints relating to the official discharge of a firearm.

The latter complaint related to discharging the stun grenades, he said, adding that no live ammunition was used.

But the committee wanted more answers.

''You could see those numbers swelling on the day but your preparations were not up to standard,'' said African National Congress committee member Angie Molebatsi.

Freedom Front Plus member Pieter Groenewald congratulated the police for their actions, and said he was not convinced that the protest was conceived by "students who came with a hashtag and #FeesMustFall".

But Democratic Alliance MP Zakhele Mbhele demanded to know why police took action against students when they were sitting down and "how on earth" could the "Bellville Six" have initially been charged with high treason.

Read more on:    police  |  cape town  |  parliament 2015  |  education  |  university fees

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