#Fees2017: Pandemonium at Wits University

Johannesburg - There was utter pandemonium at the University of the Witwatersrand on Wednesday afternoon as stun grenades, rocks and rubber bullets were exchanged between police and students.

Photo: Antoine de Ras/Independent Media. Credit: INDEPENDENT MEDIA

Screaming students, green smoke and loud bangs filled the air as stun grenades were set off to disperse a large crowd sitting on the ground singing and chanting outside the Jorissen Street entrance of the university.

The group had originally planned to march to several colleges in Braamfontein in a bid to encourage more students to take part in the #fees2017 protest. However police pushed them back and barred them from going forward on Bertha Street. “Go back to where you came from, please” said a police officer to student leaders.

The students agreed and began walking back with a student leader telling them: “Go back, go back, we don't want to be responsible for people getting hurt.”

They were escorted back to the campus by police who then stood in-front of the students as they settled on the ground in front of the Jorissen Street gate.

“We are on our own premises, we are not doing anything, the police must go,” called a student leader.

Soon after the students stood up, with those in front forming a human chain to keep the students at bay. They moved forward with the line police moving back. Stun grenades were then thrown at the crowd which scattered yelling, ducking and running back inside the campus.

According to a witness, one student tripped and fell onto a stun grenade as it exploded and was injured.

It didn't take long for students to regroup, gathering rocks and bricks to throw at police.

Some students came out of the campus to close the gates in a bid to stop police from coming in.

It was then that it began raining rocks as students threw stones and bricks as police ran forward and fired rubber bullets.

The altercation lasted at least 10 minutes while police continued to try and disperse students.

Several more stun grenades were then thrown at the crowd as the police pulled back and retreated.

The situation then calmed but outgoing SRC secretary general Fasiha Hassan came out and said that police were stopping an ambulance from coming into the campus to attend to injured students. “I can't tell you how many students are injured, but there are several.”

Ambulances finally entered the university where those injured were treated and transported to hospital.

Suddenly police sirens blared as a second altercation at the Yale Road entrance broke out. Students began throwing stones at police once more and this time police charged onto the campus shooting rubber bullets.

Two students believed to be bystanders were arrested after being ordered to get down on the floor and not heeding the police's call.

One of the arrested students who identified herself as Zainub Patel, tried to reason with police who then forced her and the male student she was with to lie on the ground.

“You are now arrested. Stay down!” Said the police officer.

“I didn't do anything, I had no stones in my hand, I just wanted to talk to you,” Patel shouted as she was lifted and escorted to a police van.

The situation remained calm as night began to fall, however a large police presence remained on the campus.

ER24 spokesman Russel Meiring said at this stage it wasn't clear how many students had been injured “but I can confirm ER24 transported two patients”.

One patient sustained minor injuries with the second sustaining moderate injuries

Student protests across the country broke out after Higher Education Minister, Blade Nzimande announced on Monday that universities could decide on the fee increase for 2017 as long as it didn’t exceed eight percent.

He emphasised that students on the National Student Financial Aid Scheme and the “missing middle” would not be affected by the increase which will be subsidised by government.

Despite this, students were still adamant to embark on protest action against any fee increment.