South Africa

October 26, 2016: A day for MTBPS and #FeesMustFall violence

By Daily Maverick Chronicle 26 October 2016

October 26 has been a tumultuous day in Cape Town with three protests ahead of Finance Minister, Pravin Gordhan’s mid-term budget speech which commenced at 14:00. Police vehicles weaved their way around the CBD as they sped to different parts of the city. A number of marches – each beginning at different intervals – had been planned in anticipation of the finance minister’s speech in the hope that he would address the ongoing funding crisis at universities across the country. Two nyalas on either side of the gates of Parliament with rolls of barbed wire attached to them and the sound of protest songs in the distance set a tone for the day. By SUMEYA GASA and LEILA DOUGAN for CHRONICLE.

After weeks of protest and shutdowns on campuses, concerned parties marched to Parliament to hand over memoranda and deliver speeches all speaking back to the issue of Higher Education fees. The minister acknowledged the need to broaden accessibility to higher education and noted the increase in funds allocated to the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) as a means through which government has attempted to achieve this.

The day started with a small group of academics, staff and parents from UCT – including Vice Chancellor Max Price – making an appearance outside the gates of Parliament to urge government to allocate more funding towards higher education. The group of just over 100 protesters held signs that read “save our universities” and “keep universities open”.

Photo by Ashraf Hendricks for GroundUp.

At approximately 11:00, the group was joined by a second and larger group of protesters – the Democratic Alliance (DA) and its student body, DASO, who marched from De Waal Park in Gardens. DA leader Mmusi Maimane addressed the crowd saying that government can afford to solve the underfunding crisis at institutions of higher education and that Gordhan must find the money to do so. Shortly afterwards, a memorandum was handed over to a representative from higher education and the group made its way back towards Gardens.

At the same time, hundreds of students from the Fees Must Fall movement had congregated at the Cape Town University of Technology (CPUT) for a planned march also heading to Parliament. The group had been preparing and mobilising for the day under the hashtag #26October and proceeded to the gates of Parliament just after midday where they were met by a heavy police presence with police vans and nyalas stationed on Parliament and Plein streets in Cape Town. The students sang and danced as police looked on.

Later in the day, a number of students climbed atop two nyalas as they listened and cheered members of different organisations who gave speeches pertaining to the call for free, decolonised tertiary education.

Moments later, police started up the nyalas, clearing off the group on one of the vehicles while the second group remained firmly planted. The officer operating the vehicle – which still had students clinging to it – began to move the nyala down Parliament Street, jerking it a few times, resulting in students falling off and one sustaining an injury from the fall after the vehicle sped up as he hung on to the front of it. Fellow students rushed to attend to the injured student and alerted a group of on-site student medics who assisted him. It is still unclear as to whether he sustained a concussion from the fall – the main concern of the volunteering medics.

Photo by Sumeya Gasa.

Photo by Sumeya Gasa.

Photo by Sumeya Gasa.

Photo by Sumeya Gasa.

Photo by Sumeya Gasa.

Photo by Sumeya Gasa.

Shortly afterwards, a protester speaking into a loudhailer informed the crowd that the protest would be moving into the city centre and urged them to begin moving in the direction of Plein Street. The protesters moved and paused occasionally to sing and dance. It was during a song that the first barrage of stun grenades were fired causing protesters to run in the opposite direction only to be met by more stun grenades, nyalas and water cannon on the other side of the street. With nowhere left to run, the students were forced to flee to Commercial Street. Police blocked off the narrow street and fired rubber bullets at the crowd, who refused to retreat any further.

Photo by Leila Dougan.

Photo by Leila Dougan.

Photo by Leila Dougan.

After another round of stun grenades were fired at the entrance of Commercial Street, students began dislodging bricks from the pavement and throwing them at the line of police standing before them. More stun grenades were fired along with rounds of rubber bullets, forcing the crowd to accept defeat and sprint away from the line of fire.

While pieces of rocks and shattered glass remained on the streets of the city, a number of students have been injured and several have been arrested. DM

Main photo by Leila Dougan.


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