A student who called for a repeat of the June 16 1976 Soweto uprising was hospitalised after he was allegedly choked at the University of Johannesburg (UJ) campus where he was meant to graduate.
“Tshilidzi Marwala [UJ Vice-Chancellor] must know that on Wednesday, UJ will be met with 1976 Soweto Uprising and 2014 Ethiopia Oromo Student-Community Protest,” read the Facebook post by Mpho Mphahlele just days before his graduation which was set for Wednesday afternoon.
Speaking to City Press on Thursday, a day after the alleged assault, Mphahlele defended his remarks as having been taken out of context.
“There is no threat on my post. How can the university and the vice-chancellor entertain Facebook posts though? They should have asked me what it meant instead of assuming,” he said.
Mphahlele – a UJ Soweto campus student who was supposed to graduate with a degree in BA Public Management and Governance – put up the post on Sunday, three days before his graduation at the UJ APK campus in Auckland Park.
But the graduation never happened after he was allegedly choked by campus security and forcibly removed from the auditorium where the ceremony was to be held.
“I entered the venue and the next thing I knew, I was surrounded by a mob of campus security personnel who began pulling me and dragging me,” Mphahlele said.
“As they were beating me up, my mom and dad tried to rescue me from the situation and they were both pepper sprayed until my mother collapsed.”.
Mphahlele said he was taken to Garden City Hospital as the altercation had exacerbated a recent injury on his right arm sustained from a car accident.
“I had to have an operation after my accident in February. When they were beating me up and choking me the injury on that arm was affected because I am still recovering. I am in pain,” he said.
A video of Mphahlele passed out and surrounded by a crowd, including a woman who was praying for him, did the rounds on Twitter on Wednesday afternoon.
“I was feeling very weak and struggling to catch my breath because I had just been strangled,” Mphahlele said about the video.
“I was still aware of what was happening around me but I was very weak.”
Mphahlele went on to explain his Facebook post: “In 1976, certain comrades were able to mobilise students to rally behind them for a noble cause. My post was just to say that we should mobilise behind every student leader who was graduating on that day,” he said.
“A lot of leaders from my Soweto branch were graduating. It was about mobilising for celebration and support.”
Mphahlele said he planned to open a case against the university management for not allowing him to graduate and for the alleged assault, but he could not do so.
“I went to Brixton police station but they said there was no term for the one case I wanted to open against management. I was subsequently cornered into opening a case of assault against the security company at the campus as well as those who instructed them to beat me up,” he said.
Brixton Police Station spokesperson, Jeanette Backhoff, was unavailable when City Press contacted the station for comment.
According to UJ communications manager, Lebogang Seale, the university was not aware of Mphahlele’s Facebook post.
“We as the university cannot react on the basis of a post on social media. This had nothing to do with a post as we have not even seen the post,” he said.
However, UJ Student Representative Council president, Tshiriletso Mati, contradicted Seale’s comment.
“I was told by the vice-chancellor himself that they had seen the post and had to act on the threat that was made on it,” Mati told City Press.
Seale said the university had merely acted on information it had received days prior to the graduation ceremony.
“Leading up to the ceremony, we had information that there was planned action to disrupt the proceedings. We assessed the situation and decided to restrict access to both the campus and the venue where the ceremony would be held to individuals we had flagged as being part of the planned disruption,” he said.
“There was fear of intimidation that could escalate to violence and harm to people on the campus as well as property. It is the duty of the university to ensure the safety of all persons and property on the campus.”
Seale told City Press that a demonstration had taken place before the commencement of the graduation ceremony.
“Before the ceremony, the student in question [Mphahlele] along with others were demonstrating around the venue. He made it clear that he would not conduct himself with respect and in accordance with appropriate behaviour,” he said.
“We then restricted access. No one was removed from the venue because he was never inside,” Seale added.
Mati again disputed Seale’s claims.
“The university is twisting things now. As the SRC of the APK campus, we had scheduled a march for that day and the university knew about it. The march was nowhere near the graduation ceremony because we were marching to Bunting Road campus and he [Mphahlele] was not even part of it. He was not there,” he told City Press.
Mati said the Facebook post could have been an error in judgement by Mphahlele.
“I don’t think that the post was necessary. That message should not have been posted on Facebook. But I also think that the university exaggerated the matter.”
“Yesterday highlighted the violence experienced by students on a daily basis. There are bouncers everywhere on this campus. Your first point of contact when you enter the university is a bouncer; the same goes for when you enter any faculty.”