6 March 2015
A protest in Cape Town city centre by students from Philippi High School over the lack of infrastructure and classrooms at their campus was violently dispersed by police officers on Friday morning.
When an armoured police vehicle moved on protesting Philippi High School pupils outside the Department of Education in the Cape Town central city this morning, the children decided to stay put. Student leaders directed their fellows to sit down on the paving to form a human chain and to face off the police line.
They sang struggle songs and cheered as the police Nyala armoured car halted within touching distance of the front line of students.
But seconds later, public order police (POP) officers threw the first two stun grenades at the pupils seated in the front line of the protest.
There was momentary pandemonium as pupils darted up the pedestrian walkway of Lower Parliament Street, with the Nyala and police officers in pursuit. The explosions of at least half a dozen further stun grenades could be heard in the ensuing seconds.
A stun grenade exploded on Philippi High School pupil Bunzi Akhona, ripping through her tracksuit pants and searing skin off the back of her left leg. Photo by Daneel Knoetze.
Minutes later, the police pushed and herded the students up Darling Street, and towards Cape Town train station. Among them was the limping figure of Bunzi Akhona, a schoolgirl whose tracksuit bottoms had been ripped open by the force of a stun grenade explosion. She told GroundUp that she was seated in the front line, and that the first grenade landed in her lap.
This sudden show of force brought to an end an hour long standoff between police and schoolkids outside the Western Cape Department of Education offices at Grand Central Towers in the city centre.
Pupil leader Athule Baba, 18-years-old and in matric, said that 600 students at Philippi High School had no school building or sport fields. Their classrooms consist of shipping containers and there are no flush toilets, she said. The school has to “borrow” a hall from a nearby primary school to write exams.
“It becomes so unbearably hot in those containers, and in winter we almost freeze to death,” Baba said, minutes before the violent action by police.
“We have raised this issue before, but were ignored by the department. Our teachers support us, but they cannot be open about this because they are employees of the department and fear for their jobs. We are not employees, we are pupils trying our best to get good results. Under the current circumstances, it is impossible. So today, we decided to march for our right to education.”
Baba held up a letter outlining these and other grievances. She was waiting for an official from the department to meet with her as the students’ representative.
GroundUp sent queries to both the department and the police. Neither had responded or confirmed receipt of these at the time of publication.
By noon on Friday, police had herded the majority of students onto trains at Cape Town station. Some of the injured were attended to by Emergency Medical Services.
“We feel like the government have neglected our rights and also abused us,” Baba said, after the attack by police.
“We were not carrying weapons or posing a threat. Instead of hearing our grievances, they send the police against us. I am very disappointed by how this system works.”