Arrests, injuries and a death: What you need to know about the Wits protest

Student protests on Tuesday and Wednesday at Wits University have shaken the country after one person was killed.

Students gather to pay respects to a man who died allegedly after being shot at close range with rubber bullets by police during a student protest in Braamfontein, Johannesburg, on March 10 2021.
Image: Alaister Russell/The Sunday Times

Students are protesting against what they call financial exclusion, also saying NSFAS should confirm funding.

Higher education minister Blade Nzimande said on Monday NSFAS is facing a financial shortfall and is unable to confirm funding eligibility for first-year students.

The minister said the government is working on a solution and that options would be presented to the cabinet for consideration on Wednesday.

Here’s what you need to know about the protests:

‘All students must register’

Wits student representative council (SRC) support officer Solami Buthelezi said protesters want the institution to financially clear students and allow them to register. She said NSFAS defunded some students while first-year students are “vulnerable because they don’t know where to go”.

Wits spokesperson Shirona Patel said the university last year established a Wits Covid-19 relief fund worth R10m which assists students with historical debt of up to R120,000 to register and secure accommodation.

She said the scheme assisted about 900 students last year and 600 have benefited so far this year.

Man shot dead, students insist on protest action

Netcare 911 spokesperson Shawn Herbst said paramedics attended to a man who was shot dead as police dispersed protesters on Wednesday morning.

The man had exited a clinic in Braamfontein when he was shot twice, allegedly by police.

He succumbed to his injuries and was declared dead at the scene, according to Herbst.

Cebolenkosi Khumalo, chairperson of the Wits Progressive Youth Alliance (PYA), said students need support as some parents lost their jobs last year at the height of the lockdown and Covid-19 pandemic.

Buthelezi said police used rubber bullets and stun grenades to disperse protesters but that they would continue with demonstrations.

Police watchdog investigate the shooting

Independent Police Investigative Directorate (Ipid) spokesperson Ndileka Cola said the directorate dispatched four officers to investigate the death and will locate the person with the video footage of the incident, and identify eyewitnesses.

“Furthermore, Ipid will ensure the body is protected and carried safely to the mortuary. If this incident is within the mandate of Ipid, the normal investigation process will unfold,” said Ndileka.

Nehawu condemned police brutality and called on Nzimande to find a solution to students’ grievances.

DA Gauteng spokesperson for community safety Crezane Bosch urged Wits and student bodies to find an amicable solution to students’ grievances.

‘Students feel unsafe’ and police are accused of brutality

Wits student Bongani Makhanya said students were feeling emotional and unsafe during protests. He accused the police of brutality. He called for accountability.

“We don’t feel safe, we have always been brutalised. Yesterday [Tuesday] they did the same thing at the medical school — they fired, beat us up and arrested some of us.

“They didn’t give us time to disperse — they shot at us at first glance, no warning at all. As a black student, how do you feel safe when there has been repeated violence against us?” he asked.

Two students injured, three get arrested 

Three protesters were detained at Hillbrow police station during clashes with police and two student journalists were injured. Patel said the university has counselling and health services available to members of the community who require assistance.

Patel said the university is committed to seeking solutions to issues affecting students.

“The university condemns any form of violence and calls on all people to keep calm during this very difficult time,” she said.

TimesLIVE (TMG Digital)

Cebelihle Bhengu

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