Police fired rubber bullets and stun grenades at #FeesMustFall protesters outside a Wits University mens residence in Parktown on Monday. The students had blocked roads with rocks and burning debris, and kept the police from entering by jamming the main gate. Picture: Antoine de Ras

Johannesburg - The alleged abduction of a Wits University student who was abandoned in Limpopo has raised fears among the protesting students that the police are using apartheid-era tactics to crack down on their leaders.

Arthur Muhanelwa was allegedly abducted in Johannesburg
by police, stripped naked and driven to Thohoyandou in the Vhembe region of Limpopo, where he was dumped, student leaders claim.

“He turned up in Limpopo after his arrest and is traumatised. We are facing police brutality, our universities resemble war zones,” Wits student leader Shaeera Kalla said.

Wits spokesperson Shirona Patel said the university was alerted on Sunday night that a student was missing after he apparently made contact from Limpopo.

“The office of the dean of students has located him, and the last report I heard is that he is on his way back to Joburg. We don’t know how he left, if he left on his own, if someone accompanied him or where he was found,” Patel said on Monday.

Police spokesperson Brigadier Sally de Beer said the SAPS were unaware of the incident.

Police on Monday said the number of arrests during the free-education protests had risen to more than 500.

“To date, 567 people have been arrested in 265 cases,” acting national police commissioner Lieutenant-General Khomotso Phahlane said during a media briefing in Pretoria.

Wits student leaders said they were concerned about the police’s heavy-handed approach targeted at their leaders.

“We are victimised and intimidated… we are going to legally challenge the way we are being treated… our vice-chancellors have handed over campuses to the police,” said the former Wits president.

Another Wits University #FeesMustFall leader, Vuyani Pambo, said: “This is not a matter of worry, it is now a reality. There is a clear mandate to reactivate apartheid machinery. We are now in a post-apartheid apartheid era. We are at the mercy of the state.”

He said students were terrified. “We are keeping away from police. We don’t even sleep in our usual places anymore. Even when I sleep at someone’s place, I can’t sleep for more than four hours at a time."

Phahlane expressed concern over several incidents of arson and petrol-bomb attacks in and around various campuses across the country.

On Friday night, several people, including students from Wits University, went on the rampage in Braamfontein, stoning and setting vehicles alight, including an SABC vehicle, said Phahlane.

He said the HIV support unit and student affairs offices were partially burnt at the Howard College campus of the University of KwaZulu-Natal on Friday night after the buildings were petrol- bombed.

And on Monday, the cricket club house at the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University was gutted, he added.