Student protests hit zenith at Parliament

Protesters booed and threw empty water bottles at Blade Nzimande as he tried to address them outside Parliament. (Madelene Cronje, M&G)

Protesters booed and threw empty water bottles at Blade Nzimande as he tried to address them outside Parliament. (Madelene Cronje, M&G)

Protests by university students against rising tertiary fees reached a watershed moment on Wednesday at Parliament in Cape Town when hundreds of students breached the precinct perimeter and were later pushed back by stun grenades and teargas.

University of Cape Town and Cape Peninsula University of Technology students gathered in their thousands at the gates of Parliament ahead of  Finance Minister Nhanhla Nene’s mid-term budget speech.

As student numbers swelled, through sheer weight of numbers, they managed to force their way in a flood of anger-driven activism.

They reached the steps leading to the doors of Parliament and after a brief, tense stalemate, public order police showed their hand, using teargas and stun grenades to drive the students back.

A number of protesters were arrested, with Parliament later indicating it would host a press conference at 5pm.

The parliamentary precinct was eventually evacuated, with parliamentary staff led down to the bottom gate. Earlier, a children’s tour group was led to safety as students banged on the parliamentary gates. Staff were laughing and chatting over the dramatic events of the afternoon.

Ministers booed
The protesters booed and threw empty water bottles at Nene and Higher Education Minister Blade Nzimande as the ministers attempted to speak to them outside Parliament.

Nzimande was sitting in the National Assembly listening to Nene present his budget statement when students chanted “We want Blade”, and went to the gates to address the students after Nene’s speech. Speaking through a loudhailer, he said: “You asked me to speak. I’m pleading with you to let me speak.” But the majority of the students could not hear him.

“Blade must go!” rang out as Nzimande tried to tell the students that a “framework agreement” was being discussed over their fees. Students said they were tired of frameworks and wanted solutions.

Students continued to chant “Blade must fall” as Nzimande tried to address them. He was forced to leave when they began throwing water bottles at him.

Campus protests
At Stellenbosch University, protesting students occupied buildings on campus and held a large meeting at the Rooiplein, where students voiced their stories of how rising costs were presenting an insurmountable challenge to their continuing education.

Later, in a meeting between management and students, management said it was never their desire to have students arrested, as occurred on Tuesday after the varsity attained a court interdict to prevent protests, which students demanded be lifted.

In Johannesburg, Wits University students, who sowed the initial seeds of student rebellion that later germinated across the country, held public lectures in the morning before later gathering at the university’s education campus.

From there, amid a sudden downpour, they marched peacefully to and from Braamfontein, monitored along the way by metro police and police officers, who managed traffic as the students walked. 

At the University of Pretoria, all academic activities were suspended until the end of the week, as more than 1 000 students exchanged their textbooks for sneakers and boots and took to the streets to express their dissatisfaction with the proposed fee increments for 2016.

Protests continued at Rhodes University in Grahamstown, the Tshwane University of Technology and Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University in Port Elizabeth, where police confronted stone-throwing students with rubber bullets.

They spread to the University of KwaZulu-Natal, the University of the Western Cape and the University of Limpopo, where Limpopo police used teargas and rubber bullets to disperse hundreds of students protesting against the rise in tuition fees.

Students at the Mbombela campus of the Tshwane University of Technology joined the national #FeesMustFall campaign, causing classes to be suspended on Wednesday.

All three campuses at the University of Free State (UFS) were shut down on Wednesday in light of the protests.

According to editor-in-chief of the student newspaper at UFS, Tango Twasa, student representative council president Nokuhle Mtuli and UFS SA Students Congress president Lebo Matshosa were not seeing eye to eye on how to proceed with protests on Wednesday.

Ntuli wanted protesters to reconvene on Thursday, while Sasco wanted the protest to continue on Wednesday. –



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