26 October 2016
Several thousand students marched through Cape Town today to demand “free decolonised education”. Just as the march was set to end and disperse, violence broke out, bringing chaos to the CBD.
Earlier the Minister of Finance, Pravin Gordhan, had heard and signed the students’ memo, before announcing in his budget speech to Parliament that an additional R17 billion would be made available to tertiary institutions over the next three years. R9 billion of this is for the “National Student Financial Aid Scheme … raising its funding by over 18% a year.” And over R8 billion is “to meet the costs of fee increases for students from households with incomes up to R600,000 [per year].”
The trigger for the violence was a symbolic cardboard “coffin” with a picture of Minister of Higher Education and Training, Blade Nzimande, attached to it. After speeches by students outside Parliament, protesters set the “coffin” alight and then hurled it toward the police. The heavily armed police responded with stun grenades, causing the students to scatter. The police then moved towards the students, some of whom threw rocks at the police who were detonating stun grenades.
The protesters sprinted away from the advancing public order police, many heading toward Cape Town station. The police appeared to be the students’ main target, with several police vans being attacked with stones. Rocks were also hurled at bystanders looking through windows and at cars trying to escape the protesters. Some students who were running from the police shouted at fellow students to stop throwing stones.
We estimate that only about 100 protesters participated in the violence.
Shops throughout the CBD quickly shut their doors, but some not soon enough, as GroundUp has received an unconfirmed report that a Clicks store in the Golden Acre was looted, and a confirmed report that a Truworths store in Adderley Street was looted.
We witnessed damage to a bus that was stoned, as well as a McDonald’s restaurant outside the train station.
While police trawled through the city attempting to disperse protesters with stun grenades and rubber bullets, students responded by attempting to block roads with burning rubbish.
Student protesters dancing on police vans. #Fees2017 pic.twitter.com/DeX51VinIh— Ashraf Hendricks (@AshrafRSA) October 26, 2016
Protesters dance on police vans (this happened before the violence broke out). Video: Ashraf Hendricks
Protester lighting rubbish on fire. The students are blocking roads outside station @GroundUp_News #Fees2017 #Parliament pic.twitter.com/5ViROWoEke— Ashleigh Furlong (@ashleighfurlong) October 26, 2016
Protester sets rubbish alight in CBD. Video: Ashleigh Furlong
The police move in. 2 female bystanders crying hysterically after police throw stun grenades & run after students @GroundUp_News #Fees2017 pic.twitter.com/mgqofxYQOv— Ashleigh Furlong (@ashleighfurlong) October 26, 2016
Police set off stun grenades. Videos Ashleigh Furlong
After about two hours of mayhem, the situation appeared to calm down, leaving the streets strewn with the aftermath of the protests.
The day had begun on a calmer note, with students from the University of Cape Town (UCT), the Cape Peninsula University of Technology (CPUT), the University of the Western Cape (UWC) and Stellenbosch University all assembling at CPUT Cape Town campus.
The students had received permission to march and marshals were appointed to lead the group to parliament.
The march to Parliament struck a chord with many students, with a number of them telling GroundUp that they had not previously been involved in the student protests but that today they were joining in.
A UCT student told GroundUp that she had previously only attended one student meeting but that she was joining in today because they were “going to the right place”. “It’s not about the university, we are going to politicians [today],” she said.
A UNISA student, whose university has been relatively untouched by student protests, said that he had joined protests at CPUT and UWC’s campuses earlier this year.
“The question of free education is a social question,” he said. He said many people did not have the necessary skills to secure work. Billions of rands had been spent on things such as the Soccer World Cup, instead of free education, the student said.
Before the students left for the march, UWC student leader Monde Nonape told the crowd that they “had a date with the state” today. “The land belongs to black people and all the resources under the land,” he said.
Around midday the march began and students attempted to head down Keizersgracht Street but were stopped by riot police who wanted them to form a line of marshals in the front to keep the group together. This proved futile as students began to move towards Parliament as a large mass.
The frontline of protesters then practically sprinted to Parliament, with some students climbing onto moving police vans. When he arrived, Gordhan listened to the students’ memo and then went inside to present his medium term budget speech.
In their memo the students said they wanted Nzimande to fund free “Afrocentric education”, and to scrap all historical debt dating back to 1992. The statement said that debt was one of the key challenges hindering black graduates from making a meaningful impact on the economy and improving the lives of their families. The students also called for an end to outsourcing, a “demilitarisation” of campuses and the return of all expelled, interdicted, suspended, dismissed, financially and/or academically excluded students.
A student addressing the crowd said that the universities would remain shut until there was free education. Currently UCT, UWC and CPUT are, to various degrees, shut down.
“If you are going to give us violence, we are going to respond with violence,” said another student leader.
CPUT student leader Lukhanyo Vangqa said that “they have not created a bullet that can kill a revolution”. About universities that were not open for poor people he said: “let it burn”.
“Only the shattering sound of a breaking window makes them sit up and listen,” said Vangqa.
A “concerned parent” addressed the crowd, saying that he had never imagined that in “this day and age” students would be “criminalised for fighting for what is rightfully theirs” and that parents who sent a child to university were “actually sending them to prison”.
He said that his message to the parents in “blue helmets”, referring to the police, was that they should question their own integrity as the system was also oppressing them. “Get home and look your own child in the eye and say today I shot someone else’s child,” he said.
It is unclear at this stage if any students were arrested in the violence that ensued following the conclusion of the speeches outside Parliament.
All photos by Ashraf Hendricks