At the University of Johannesburg’s (UJ) Auckland Park campus on Wednesday, police ordered Economic Freedom Fighters Student Command (EFFSC) members to disperse on the grounds that their march was illegal. This fell on deaf ears. Police and bouncers charged towards the group who was singing struggle songs and demanded to hand over a memorandum to vice-chancellor Ihron Rensburg.
Pandemonium ensued. The group of more than 100 ran in different directions with some tripping and many being apprehended by SAPS officers and bouncers.
The Mail & Guardian reporter witnessed a police officer and a bouncer dragging one female student, who was not wearing EFF regalia, on the concrete pavement. She seemed to have been one of the university students who gathered as spectators.
Scores of youth were then arrested and thrown into a police vehicle.
Others were left bleeding. One injured UJ student, who was bleeding from the head, told reporters she was hit by rock thrown at her by a bouncer.
Police made a second round of arrests, this time of EFFSC members gathering outside the campus entrance.
Mpho Morolane, president of the EFFSC, was arrested with this group. Morolane told the M&G: “We’re being persecuted. This is peaceful. We wanted to do it peacefully, but we’re being persecuted.”
One arrested student was heard asking police from the back of the van: “How do you feel beating your own child fighting for education?”
‘You’re going to be in trouble’
A police officer, whose nametag identified him as Twala, was seen intimidating The Citizen newspaper photographer, Allister Russell.
Twala warned Russell against taking pictures of police officers arresting students. “Don’t take pictures. Chief don’t shoot me. If I see my picture in the papers, you’re going to be in trouble,” the officer shouted.
An upset Russell told reporters that police randomly harrassed him at the protest. “They are harrassing me, throwing me around. They try to push me away whenever I take pictures.”
There was a large contingency of police officers deployed to the protest. They made it clear to protestors that they wanted them to disburse because their gathering was illegal.
“We’re giving you five minutes to disperse. You’re already committing an offence by taking part in this gathering,” an officer identifying himself as captain Du Bruyn told the EFFSC members.
“The issue at hand is that this gathering of the EFF has been prohibited, meaning this gathering should not take place. This gathering is illegal. Everyone attending it is committing an offence. That is why we’re going to give you reasonable time to disperse. If you do not disperse we’ll take action against you,” he added.
Permission to march denied
The EFFSC had applied for permission to march to the university. But the Johannesburg Metro Police Department (JMPD) rejected it.
A JMPD letter to the EFFSC UJ employees distributed to journalists at a press briefing revealed permission was denied because police believed the march would be violent.
In addition, it was being denied because a march by the EFF to the Gauteng Legislature Speaker in July 2014 “turned to be horribly wrong on the day in question”.
“Your organisation refused to adhere to the conditions imposed by the responsible office based on your previous office,” said the letter.
EFF students did not get a chance to state to UJ management their demands. But the M&G understands that their main gripe is a UJ policy called F7 that kicks out each semester if they fail a certain number of modules.
Godfrey Helani, director of student life and governance at UJ, said the institution “sought the assistance of the SAPS to maintain order and discipline on its campuses. The university remains committed to engage with students on their concerns, and will only do so in an atmosphere of good order and discipline.”