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Second day of Wits #Fees2017 sees violent clashes

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Nasya Smith
September20/ 2016

Students continue to protest on all Wits campuses on the second day of the #Fees2017 protests.

Student protesters at Wits University, who largely demonstrated peacefully throughout most of today, were met with hostility by SAPS and Wits’ private security resulting in a few injuries. The clashes between protesters and security came on the second day of the #Fees2017 mobilisation against the decision by the ministry of Higher Education to allow tertiary institutions to set their own fee increases for 2017, capped at 8%.

The day started with the arrests of 31 students who had allegedly violated an existing court interdict by blocking access to the university. The students were taken to Hillbrow Police Station and look likely to remain there overnight.

 

At noon, a group of student protesters from Wits main campus marched down Jan Smuts Avenue, Braamfontein, bringing lunchtime traffic to a halt. The police blocked off the road but students passed them without incident as they continued on their march to Wits Medical campus. At the St Andrews and Jan Smuts intersection, students were again met by a group of police who proceeded to hurl several stun grenades at the crowd in an attempt to disperse them. The students retreated and took a detour to the Wits Education campus.

The marchers were met by police once again just before the entrance to the Wits Education campus who attempted to block access to the protesters.

Outgoing Wits SRC secretary general, Fasiha Hassan, approached police with her hands above her head in order to negotiate access. The students were eventually allowed to enter the education campus with the agreement that they would “disperse” once on campus. 

The protesters merged with a group of education campus protesters and they proceeded to discuss a way forward. Rob Sharman, the Wits head of residence life told Wits Vuvuzela that as a result of the clashes between students and police, he had “asked the police to hang back”.

 

 

During the meeting students had agreed to march back to main campus but to use a route that would pass Hillbrow Police Station to demand the release of the their arrested compatriots. Police outside the education campus warned the protesters that should they attempt to march down Empire Road (the road leading to the main entrance of Wits), they would be met with force.

Upon exiting the campus the group of protesters were again met by police who warned that they would not allow the group to march back to main campus. The students used an alternate route to march back to main campus while conflicting reports of the release of the arrested students circulated on social media.

As the large group of protesters returned to main campus, they headed for Solomon Mahlangu House to convene a mass meeting in the concourse. Access to the building through the Central Block building and the Great Hall foyer was blocked by Wits private security, many of whom wore helmets and carried riot shields. A scuffle ensued between the two groups as the protesters attempted to access Solomon Mahlangu House.

The students retreated but returned with pieces of broken cement dustbins which they hurled at the private security force. The private security picked up the same chunks of rock and hurled it back at the students. The fight between the two ended only after police arrived and intervened. The students then showed their willingness to engage peacefully by approaching the police with their hands above their heads.

INJURED: The hand of a student who had been hit by one of the hurling rocks thrown by Wits' private security. Photo: Nasya Smith
INJURED: The hand of a student who had been hit by one of the hurling rocks thrown by Wits’ private security.                                                                                  Photo: Nasya Smith

Wits has maintained that the academic programme will continue and has not declared a shut down despite the fact that the protesters managed to effectively shut down the medical school and education campuses today. Through a statement released late in the day, the university said it has “reached out to the student leadership in an attempt to resolve matters this evening”.

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Nasya Smith

Taking on the world one story at a time. Aspiring investigative journalist.