South Africa


Man shot dead as police disperse protesting Wits students

A crowd of university students, protesting over funding woes, form the guard of honour around a SAPS vehicle transporting the 35-year-old man that was shot dead in Braamfontein, Johannesburg on Wednesday, 10 March 2021. (Photo: Felix Dlangamandla/Daily Maverick)

A 35-year-old man was shot dead, allegedly by police, during a protest by students at Wits University on Wednesday morning. The students were protesting about National Student Financial Aid Scheme funding shortfalls and other issues, at the same time that the scheme was briefing MPs in Parliament about these very issues. 

“There has been a very sad incident just a few minutes ago, where I am,” National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) board chairperson, Ernest Khosa announced to members of a Parliamentary portfolio committee during a virtual briefing by the Department of Higher Education and Training (DHET) and NSFAS, on Wednesday morning. 

Khosa said he was located “a few metres from Wits University” when he joined the virtual meeting and could hear the disruptive “noise” of protesters outside his building. 

“I hope that what is happening outside, shows in so many ways the significance of the presentation that [NSFAS is] making today,” said Khosa. 

University students protesting in Braamfontein, Johannesburg on Wednesday, 10 March 2021. (Photo: Felix Dlangamandla/Daily Maverick)

A body lies on a pavement in Braamfontein, Johannesburg on Wednesday, 10 March 2021. (Photo: Felix Dlangamandla/Daily Maverick)

Wits University students protesting about NSFAS funding shortfalls and other issues in Braamfontein, Johannesburg on 10 March 2021. (Photo: Felix Dlangamandla/Daily Maverick)

As the meeting unfolded, details of the tragic incident in Braamfontein emerged. A man — believed to be a passerby — was allegedly shot and killed while police attempted to disperse Wits University students protesting about funding delays.

“Ultimately, in order for us not to see the type of violence we have seen … it goes back to us as a sector ensuring that we are more prepared for each academic year,” ANC MP, Nompendulo Thobile Mkhatshwa, said at the portfolio committee meeting.

The wave of unrest on university campuses was raised as a topic of conversation in the portfolio committee meeting by the Department of Higher Education and Training (DHET), where MPs noted better planning is needed from the higher education sector in preparation for the academic year to ensure admissions run more smoothly in future. 

The shooting occurred in the midst of ongoing protests around the campus since Monday as students raised grievances about “exorbitant” registration fees, a delay in NSFAS funding for 2021, first-year students not receiving funding status and accommodation woes. 

In a statement, Wits University has extended its condolences to the family of the deceased, stating that it condemns “any form of violence and [calls] on all persons to keep calm during this very difficult time”.

The Independent Police Investigative Directorate (IPID) was notified by the Hillbrow Police Station of the shooting incident in Braamfontein and has dispatched an investigation team to the crime scene, according to an IPID statement. 

“The Directorate has dispatched four investigation officers to probe the allegations, the team will also cordon the crime scene and conduct the investigation including locating the person with the video footage [and] identify eyewitnesses,” read the IPID statement.

The Directorate will provide further information once the preliminary investigation has been finalised later today, said the IPID. 

Tensions and disgruntlement among students have been growing In the build-up to the belated re-opening of universities — due to the Covid-19 pandemic — for the academic year.

At a media briefing on Monday, 8 March 2021, higher education Minister Blade Nzimande said the NSFAS was facing a shortfall in its funding for 2021. 

Addressing the media, Nzimande said the shortfall in funding means that NSFAS was unable to confirm funding for first-time university students. 

According to Nzimande, the department and universities agreed to extend the registration period for new students by two weeks, so that no student is “disadvantaged” because of the delay brought about by NSFAS. 

State of readiness 

Under lockdown level one regulations, enforced from 28 February 2021, universities are permitted to return to full capacity.  

Briefing MPs on Wednesday, Chief Director: University Policy and Development Support in the DHET, Mahlubi Mabizela said the Covid-19 pandemic and second wave of the virus had disrupted the higher education sector, with some universities only completing their 2020 academic year as late as February 2021.

Students protest in  Braamfontein, at the scene were a man was shot dead., on Wednesday morning. Photo:Felix Dlangamandla/Daily Maverick

Some institutions, such as Stellenbosch University, the University of KwaZuluNatal and Wits have already commenced the 2021 academic year, he said. 

Others will be commencing between mid-March to April 2021, he added.

“The intention is for institutions to complete the 2021 academic year within the calendar year. However, this requires timetable adjustments and will depend on the trajectory of the virus,” said Mabizela.

Adjusted directions will be issued soon, to provide guidance to higher education institutions on effective management of the 2021 academic year in line with the regulations, said Mabizela. DM

This is a developing story and  further reports from Wits University will be published shortly. 





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