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Stun grenades and tear gas fired at Wits students

At least three students were injured after police dispersed protesters with teargas, stun grenades and rubber bullets in Braamfontein on Wednesday. Wits students had intended to march to Braamfontein to mobilise students from private colleges – such as Boston and Rosebank – in order for them to join the march and thus expand the movement for free, decolonised education.

Police however dispersed the protests, as they said the students did not have the requisite planning permissions to march through the streets of Braamfontein.

“When we were close to Rosebank College we were met with a police barricade who said we have to turn around otherwise they would open fire with rubber bullets,” said Fasiha Hassen, Secretary General of the SRC.

“After much discussion we decided we would turn the march around and come back to campus and restrategise. Upon entry into the Wits Art Museum gate some students were inside, some were outside, but majority were on the inside of campus, police threatened and then opened fire.”

A number of injuries were then reported.

Once back at campus, students were agitated, and singing just outside the gate on Jorissen Street. Police gave students a line that they weren’t supposed to pass, but students eventually edged by it while protesting. Officers issued the media a warning that they were about to drop stun grenades to disperse the crowd, and then dropped them.

Students scattered and ran back into the campus. One of the students fell on a grenade and was injured. Police then fired rubber bullets and released teargas near the gate.

After a few minutes, students sporadically returned, running to the gate and hurling rocks at the police.

Police returned fire with rubber bullets and the occasional grenade. The gate was eventually closed but the pedestrian entrance remained open. There was a standoff at the gate for about 20 minutes. Once crowds developed they were fired at again.

“There were a group of students who confronted private security later on as a product of the anger of being provoked by police early without students actually doing anything,” Hassan said.

According to her, the students are expressing their frustration and anger with the manner that they have been treated.

“We followed the instruction of the police and you still shoot at us, what more must happen?” she asked.

Thabo Mahlungu, 19, a student from Spruit said police had used excessive force on the students.

“I just started hearing sounds and shit, I ran back and that’s when things started to get real. I saw some people injured, like me, I am injured,” he said. “We are fighting for our freedom, for what we are here. They [the police] are being really, really radical and brutal to us and we haven’t really done anything, we were just singing and dancing.”

Eventually, the incoming SRC president, Kefentse Mkhari and Busisiwe Leave of Wits Fees Must fall walked to the gate with arms up to talk to the sergeant again. The student leaders asked the police to cease fire as the students were heading back to the Great Hall piazza.

According to Hassan, the police have warned that they will disperse students assembled on the lawns in front of the Great Hall this evening. Two people have reportedly been arrested.

Wits spokesperson, Shirona Patel said the injured students had been treated.

“We have treated them through paramedics at the Wits Art Museum and Campus Health and Wellness Centre,” she said. “Our dean of students is also with them. we understand a few have been taken to hospital as well. And the dean of students is trying to make her way there.”

 

Featured image by Mohammed Jameel Abdulla

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