The sound of rubber bullets, stun grenades, and stones hitting police nyalas greeted President Jacob Zuma’s announcement yesterday afternoon that university fees would rise by 0 percent in 2016. Police and nyalas could be seen chasing down students on the south lawns of the Union Buildings and surrounding streets following Zuma’s announcement, which was proceeded by a mass demonstration against fee increases that had already turned violent.
A group of agitators, possibly not even students, had confronted police earlier yesterday afternoon by a fence erected ahead of the protest. They ripped a hole in the fence, where over the course of the late morning and early afternoon they played a game of cat and mouse with police, throwing stones and other objects, with police responding with tear gas and stun grenades.
Many of those making up the agitating group — who the majority of peacefully protesting students disassociated themselves from — were wearing ANC Youth League, SA Student Congress, Economic Freedom Fighters and the Pan Africanist Movement of Azania T-shirts. After this initial confrontation, a group remained behind, expecting Zuma to address them.
Instead, Zuma addressed the country via television after a meeting with student leaders and university management teams on the issue of fee increases. After Zuma’s announcement, a scuffle seemed to breakout which led to a deterioration of order as police began firing rubber bullets, tear gas and stun grenades at fleeing students. A group managed to make it behind the police line, but they were chased and fled back to the lawns.
A metro police officer was also seen pulling out a pistol while students threw rocks. Security guards in the nearby Sheraton Hotel also stood ready with pistols.
The scene resembled that of a battlefield, as the statue of deceased former president Nelson Mandela looked on, arms aloft and wide open.
Many of the students spoken to after the 0 percent announcement felt it was not a victory, merely the first step in a long process of reforming South Africa’s higher education system.
In Cape Town, students reacted with tears and jubilation as news spread of Zuma’s announcement, with cheers heard outside Parliament. Motorists hooted and gave students the thumbs-up, while some of the students started singing the national anthem. “We got what we were asking for,” said one student, adding that it had been very emotional to see their fellow students arrested.
Meanwhile, at Stellenbosch University, where two students had been arrested earlier, there were tears of joy. But at the University of the Western Cape, students still wanted free education, rather than a zero percent increase. There were also concerns elsewhere that Zuma had not addressed the students who had gathered at the Union Buildings.
In Durban, Walter Sisulu University third-year student Athenkosi Tshayingwe said that Zuma had lied to demonstrators.
“Yes, it is a good thing that the fees won’t increase. But that was obvious. The increases in some cases were more than 20 percent. He must not think he is doing us a favour by making that declaration.
“This solves zero problems. My life is still one that began in a poor township with no water, no toilets . . . nothing.” Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University SRC president Nicholas Nyati had mixed feelings about Zuma’s announcement. “I am happy that the students were united, spoke in one voice and the government listened. I am disappointed because it took government a long time to respond to us . . . I am also worried about what will happen in 2017.” — News24.