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‘Why am I being shot?’ Witnesses describe last moments of man shot during Wits protests

His body lay on concrete, covered in foil, for hours. Part of his head, with short hair, was exposed. Next to his head was one of his blue takkies. 

At first, a woman circled his body taking photos. She left. Another man came, surrounded by police officers, and they spoke over the dead man’s body. He left. A woman and man came, and the foil was removed. They inspected the body and kept on writing things down. They left. A man dressed in a sleeveless khaki jacket marked “IPID” (Independent Police Investigative Directorate) came and stood hovering over the body, while taking police statements. 

The 35-year-old man was shot and killed by police in Braamfontein on Wednesday. He had just finished a doctor’s consultation at My Clinic on De Beer Street when he was gunned down.  

Dr Tebogo Sedibe, whom the man had just consulted, later told the media that he found three wounds when he examined the man. The biggest wound was below his chest. 

Sedibe says he heard gunshots; shortly after, his assistant came to call him. He went out to find the man lying just outside the clinic door. 

“When I approached him, he had a hole on his shirt and a wound on his right eyebrow and another wound just underneath his right arm. But the big wound was just below the chest,” said Sedibe. 

He said when he found the man, he was gasping. 

“That is a sign of the end of life,” the doctor said.

He tried to resuscitate him, but “unfortunately, it was not successful”.

Sedibe said the man was in good health before he was killed. Police were in Braamfontein dispersing protesting University of Witwatersrand (Wits) students by shooting rubber bullets at them. 

Wits students have been protesting against the financial exclusion of students who owe outstanding university fees. One of their demands is that the university allows all students with historical debt to register.

On Wednesday morning, scenes of protesting students dispersed by rubber bullets fired by the police played out in Braamfontein.

Eyewitness account 

Radasi Peterson, who is part of the student representative council at Wits, told the Mail & Guardian that he witnessed the man being shot by the police. 

Peterson said he was running away from a Nyala and had just stopped at De Beer Street in Braamfontein.

He said the Nyala parked in the middle of the road in the same street. He says there were no protesters in that street at the time: there were just normal people  and students from a college standing around the vicinity of My Clinic. 

“The police came out of the inyala with their guns cocked and started shooting. They did not ask, ‘Who are you? Are you part of the protest?’,” Peterson said. 

“The funny thing is, when we started the protest, we were all in yellow regalia; when we blocked Jan Smuts and Bertha Street, we were in yellow regalia, so you could easily identify protesters.

“But you shoot people who are not in this colour without asking? It is totally brutal; it’s totally incomprehensible on all levels. It is just barbaric,” he said.

Peterson said the man was met with gunshots as he walked out of the clinic.

“They shot him the first time when they came out of inyala; he fell on the ground. He woke up and asked, ‘What is happening? Why am I being shot?’ When he woke up, he was met with another bullet and this time they shot him at close range.”

Ipid investigation

In a statement on Wednesday, Ipid spokesperson Ndileka Cola said the directorate would investigate whether police killed the man, and that the preliminary investigation would be finalised on Wednesday. 

Cola said that if the incident were found to fall under Ipid’s mandate, “normal investigation processes will unfold”.

In a statement on Wednesday, Wits spokesperson Shirona Patel said what had transpired is “regrettable”. 

“We call on all persons to remain calm during this difficult time. The university remains committed to seeking creative, peaceful solutions to any outstanding issues in the higher education sector,” the statement read. 

There are tensions in the higher education sector over funding issues.

On Monday, Higher Education Minister Blade Nzimande said the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) experienced a funding shortfall. That is why it has failed to confirm funding for first-year university students. Nzimande said his department and the treasury were working to find solutions for the crisis and present the options to the cabinet on Wednesday and later report to the nation. 

Nzimande also said that he had agreed with university managers to extend registration by two weeks so as not to disadvantage students who are affected by the challenges at NSFAS.

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Bongekile Macupe
Bongekile Macupe is an education reporter at the Mail & Guardian.

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