#FeesMustFall: Wits resembles a warzone as students, security clash

Students flee as stones are hurled at security personnel guarding the Great Hall at Wits.
Students flee as stones are hurled at security personnel guarding the Great Hall at Wits.
Leon Sadiki

Chaotic scenes close to a warzone unfolded at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg today. Stones flew from both sides and insults hurled on the stairs at the entry to the Great Hall in clashes between protesting students and private security officers.

A fire extinguisher was used by students in a move that seemed to have overpowered scores of security personnel who found themselves faced with a mob of stone throwers. Armed with baton and riot shield, the security officers took it back to their attackers when they started pelting them with the same stones hurled at them

Overpowered and outnumbered, stoned by those they could not see because students were throwing stones from behind a cloud of a white smoke from a fire distinguisher; security officials started vanishing into the building they had guarded.

Police took to the front and after the dust had settled, protesting students were allowed in. They walked through the broken and damaged doors, stepping on glass splinters from broken windows and doors.

On the Library Lawns, scores of injured protesters received assistance from what appeared to be medical students.

These were some of the ugly scenes at the Wits University main campus as protesting students’ returned from shutting down other campuses around the Parktown area.

They had earlier defied the police who wanted them to disperse and not go anywhere near Hillbrow police station, where students who were arrested earlier in the day were being kept.

The students returned to the main campus in a large group, singing and marching all the way down Empire Road.

All was well, until they reached the Library Lawns and realised their way into the Great Hall was blocked. All hell broke loose as they pelted their way into the building. 

The protest was in reaction to Higher Education Minister Blade Nzimande’s announcement yesterday that fees would increase, but by no more than 8% for the 2017 academic year.

Students have demanded a 0% increase and others reiterated their call for free education for all – which Nzimande said was not affordable for the state.

The Wits students representative council secretary-general Fasiha Hassan said the struggle continued and that students were pressing forward in shutting down the university in order to make their voices heard.

She urged the public to support the students.

“We are appealing to society to support us. Fees Must Fall is not just a student struggle,” Hassan said.

Students flee as a protest at Wits turns violent.
Students flee as a #FeesMustFall protest at Wits turns violent.
Students during the #FeesMustFall protest at Wits.
Police struggle to control rowdy students at Wits.
The doors to the Great Hall at Wits after students forced their way in.
Police retaliate during a #FeesMustFall protest at Wits
A students wields a fire extinguisher at Wits.
A #FeesMustFall protest at Wits.
Students throw stones during a #FeesMustFall protest at Wits.
A protester lies on the floor after being struck by a rock. Wits students received resistance from security personnel when they attempted to access the Great Hall.
Rocks, sticks, fire extinguishers.... students grabbed whatever weapons they could find as they battled security guards at Wits University on Tuesday.
A protester was injured in a standoff between private security guards and students at Wits university on Tuesday.
A private security guard retaliates after being pelted with rocks at Wits on Tuesday.
Security guards come under fire from students at Wits, who were trying to enter the Great Hall.


At other campuses

Free State

Meanwhile, the University of Free State suspended classes following protests and academic activities disruptions at its campuses today.

“After careful assessment of the situation on the Bloemfontein, Qwaqwa, and South Campuses of the University of the Free State, and engagement with the student representative council, the senior leadership decided this morning to close all its campuses until Friday.

“The decision to suspend academic and administrative services for the rest of this week was taken with caution, as it will ensure the safety of staff, students, and university property,” said university spokesperson Lacea Loader.

This decision was made after all academic activities were suspended on the Bloemfontein Campus yesterday afternoon because of a growing unease and disruption of some academic activities by groups of students, resulting from yesterday morning’s announcement on tuition fees.

“Although the university management is in favour of peaceful protests, it condemns these disruptions, especially as it took place during an important time in the academic calendar.”

North West

There were reports of classes disruption at the North West University Mahikeng Campus today. At about R150 million, this university accounted for the highest amount in damages from the last #FeesMustFall protests in which property was torched.

The ministry has estimated cost of damages from all institutions at more than R400 million.

KwaZulu-Natal

Through the sweltering Pietermaritzburg heat, hundreds of students marched in protest over a prospective University of KwaZulu-Natal fee increase.

The students, roused by the chorus of struggle songs, amassed outside Pietermaritzburg’s provincial legislature to demand free education.

Meanwhile, News24 reported that, in contrast to the rest of the country, students from the University of KwaZulu-Natal’s Howard and Westville campuses in Durban did not embark on any #FeesMustFall protests.

However, security at both campuses was increased dramatically, with eight to 10 guards at the main gates of both campuses.

Port Elizabeth

The Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University advised staff and students to stay off all campuses.

“Essential services will continue, but all academic activities have been suspended for today,” the university said.

Essential services include security, catering, cleaning, health-related services and key technical staff, it said.

Students blocked the south and north campuses in Summerstrand, burning tyres and singing struggle songs while calling for unity.

Johannesburg

Meanwhile, a few kilometres away from the drama at Wits, the University of Johannesburg’s convocation president Mbali Mkhonto warned students against being used.

“We encourage students to contemplate the minister’s announcement to ensure that they are not hoaxed into joining protests that have got absolutely nothing to do with them.

Mkhonto urged students to be aware of those who appropriate legitimate student causes for their personal political ends.

He said students must focus on their studies during this crucial time in the academic calendar. 




Cape Town

At the University of Cape Town student protesters made their way through empty lecture halls at the institution after the university decided to suspend classes. Things turned a bit nasty when one student tried to force others out of lecture halls using a sjambok.

The university announced on social media that classes, lectures and tutorials were suspended for Tuesday and Wednesday, advising students to check its website for updates.

The students made their way through upper campus, with their numbers growing along the way.

Earlier on Tuesday morning, police warned about 30 students blockading the road leading to upper campus with two canoes, a car, a bench and a tree branch that they were obstructing a public road and would face “procedure” should they not remove the objects.

The students demanded a court order and remained seated before making their way to the lecture halls. No clashes with police were reported.

The University of the Western Cape said it had not yet made a final decision on its fees for next year. But this morning, there were no obstructions at campus entrances and lectures continued without interruptions, said the university’s spokesperson Luthando Tyhalibongo.

He said the proposed department subsidisation of fee increases for some students would benefit a significant proportion of their students.

The majority of students fell within the “missing middle” and National Student Financial Aid Scheme-eligible categories. Additional reporting by News24


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