#FEES MUST FALL No end in sight as unrest persists

2016-10-16 06:00
A car burns outside a nightclub near the University of the Witwatersrand. (Yeshiel Panchia, AP)

A car burns outside a nightclub near the University of the Witwatersrand. (Yeshiel Panchia, AP)

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Johannesburg - There is no end in sight to the deadlock between students and the government as protesters calling for free education are set to occupy the streets for a fifth week.

The government’s decision to put together a ministerial task team mandated to “normalise” campuses has caused further mistrust, with students questioning the exclusion of Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan from the team.

The task team, announced while President Jacob Zuma was on a state visit to Kenya, is dominated by security cluster ministers suspected of being partial to a clampdown on protesting students in a bid to save the academic year.

Mmabatho Ramompi, spokesperson for the task team’s leader, Minister in the Presidency Jeff Radebe, said on Saturday that Zuma included security cluster ministers to “address the widespread destruction of property and violence and intimidation” seen on campuses.

The task team’s mandate is to “coordinate the government’s response to the situation” and “serve as a point of contact for stakeholders in the sector and society who would wish to work with the government to get the academic programme back on track”, Ramompi said.

“It is critical that a conducive environment for learning and teaching is created so that the 2016 academic year is not lost,” she said.

“Normalising the situation entails restoring stability to campuses and ensuring that students are able to get back to class without fear of intimidation and violence,” she said.

Student leaders at Wits University – considered the epicentre of the protest action – have said they were woken up in the early hours of Monday morning by a man who said he had been sent by the intelligence minister and task team member David Mahlobo.

The students, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the man had identified himself as “Malcolm” and was dressed in casual clothes and had said the minister wanted to speak to them.

However, State Security Agency spokesperson Brian Dube denies this.

City Press reported last week that police would deal more harshly with students and that targeted arrests would be made to bring an end to the protests.

While a number of arrests had been made the past few days, student leaders at Wits have not been arrested.

Speaking on condition of anonymity, students leaders said the news of their impending arrest was making them anxious.

“We keep expecting that it will happen and we don’t know why it hasn’t. We have not been sleeping at our homes and have avoided walking around alone. We are aware that there are police and people from intelligence on campus posing as journalists and students, but we don’t know why they have not acted,” said one student leader.

Wits announced on Monday that operational control of security had been handed over to the police, who have set up a temporary base on the campus.

While protesting students all seem to agree that protest action must continue, City Press understands that there is disagreement on the method for this.

While some advocate a more “peaceful” approach, others are calling for a more “militant” one.

At least two cars were burnt on Friday night and stones were thrown at others as protest action spilt onto the streets of Braamfontein for a second time.

Students said police on campus had fired indiscriminately, with rubber bullets flying into rooms of residences and then in the streets of Braamfontein.

Both the police and the university dispute this version of events.

“The police were called into Braamfontein as vehicles were being stoned and set alight, and people were concerned for their safety. We deployed and took the necessary proportional action to protect lives and property, as per our constitutional mandate. Stability and order was restored,” said police spokesperson Brigadier Sally de Beer.

“We continue to monitor and deploy where necessary. We have no knowledge of students being ‘shot at their desks’ and disagree with that statement.”

Friday’s protest is believed to have been set off by the announcement of a curfew that would be implemented by Wits University management.

Anyone who does not live on campus would be denied access between 22:00 and 06:00.

Meanwhile, black academics at Wits are in the process of writing to vice-chancellor Adam Habib about the conditions.

“We decided to start collecting evidence after we met black administrative staff. Many of them are told they cannot leave, even if they feel unsafe. If they leave, they must take formal leave,” said Dr Danai Mupotsa, a lecturer at Wits.

“Because of where the protest areas are located, we’ve seen administrative staff in the Matrix [building], for instance, being stuck inside. They [police] lock the doors and shoot and throw teargas and stun grenades into the building. [People] are told to stay calm and lock their doors, meaning that they breathe teargas daily.”

Mupotsa described how another member of staff was shot at his work station in the Matrix building on East Campus on Saturday. 

“Campus health was stormed by the police this week – stones, rubber bullets and teargas – while they tried to help patients. Incidentally a message was going around saying staff who help students would be disciplined. Even medical assistance [staff].”

Terry Tselane, Independent Electoral Commission deputy chairperson and one of a group of mediators and alumni working to resolve tensions, told City Press that the presence of police and security had become a sticking point. He also confirmed they had met Radebe over the free education call.

The ministerial task team includes Mahlobo, Police Minister Nathi Nhleko, Justice Minister Michael Masutha, Defence Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula and Home Affairs Minister Malusi Gigaba. Higher Education Minister Blade Nzimande and Science and Technology Minister Naledi Pandor were also included.


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Read more on:    jeff radebe  |  free education  |  fees must fall  |  police brutality

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