Parliament - Questions have emerged over the presence at Parliament of public order police, known as the riot police, who repeatedly fired volleys of stun grenades at #FeesMustFall student protesters.
The riot police also manhandled and pushed the protesters off the parliamentary precinct in unprecedented scenes unfolding over two hours, which saw the protesters trying to storm the House.
Parliament on Wednesday confirmed those police officials, many of whom wore black body armour with helmets and shields, were not based at Parliament, nor were they part of the parliamentary security detail.
The police would have accompanied the around 5 000 protesting students as they pushed through the gates, which gave way.
“It is not normal for police to be in Parliament,” was the explanation offered at a hastily convened media briefing by acting Speaker Thoko Didiza and National Council of Provinces (NCOP) chairwoman Thandi Modise.
“They are not part of Parliament,” Modise later told Independent Media
Parliament was understood to be awaiting a detailed briefing from its own security staff.
It also appears that Parliament was caught off guard by the marchers, who were described as not targeting the national legislature, but wanting to be addressed by Higher Education Minister Blade Nzimande.
“We heard that the students were marching. There was also unconfirmed reports… If we had such a confirmed report, we would have been ready to accept a memorandum,” said Modise.
Didiza said: “I didn’t hear anything… We were then advised at the end of the sitting that MPs should go back to their offices.”
Nzimande later tried to address the protesters at the side entrance to Parliament, but was met with boos from the students, who called for his head.
Former top cop and current Deputy Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Bheki Cele also drew a blank, as students booed him too.
President Jacob Zuma, who was present during the speech, had to use the side entrance when he left because of the students at the main entrance.
Independent Media has confirmed that Nzimande received at least two notes during the sitting for the medium-term budget policy statement, indicating that the students wanted him to address them.
Parliament confirmed that the deputy secretary passed on the message. United Democratic Movement chief whip Nqabayomzi Kwankwa said he wrote to Nzimande, asking him to address the students.
Kwankwa and IFP MP Mkhuleko Hlengwa were outside speaking to students and watching the chaotic events unfold. The violence initially unfolded near Nelson Mandela’s bust at the stairs to the columnated entrance to the National Assembly.
Protesting students were sitting down as a scuffle broke out, and at least two policemen rugby-tackled one protester to the ground. Some students threw plastic water bottles at the line of riot police guarding the stairs. Another scuffle broke out.
Suddenly a volley of stun grenades rang out, scattering students. Shoes and placards were strewn across the cobblestones. Students reassembled into three separate groupings. One young man held up a handwritten poster saying: “My father is a policeman. He would not want to see his son shot”.
Elsewhere another group chanted “We want Blade”, until the police dispersed them.
The push by the riot police down Parliament Avenue continued as students sang the national anthem, many holding up their hands, others angrily shouting at police.
Some students fell and, on at least two occasions, those who fell were targeted by two or three policemen. At least one policeman was seen tasering students as they were being pushed back to the gates.
The son of liberation Struggle stalwart Reverend Frank Chikane was among the five students and activists arrested on Wednesday. Joining him were Rhodes Must Fall movement leader Chumani Maxwele, Black First Land First’s Lindsay Maasdorp and University of Cape Town students Markus Trengove and Nathan Taylor.
“We are angry. We don’t know what we are being charged with or why we were arrested,” said UCT student and ANC card-holding member Kgosi Chikane, speaking from the back of a police van.
No injuries were reported, but some students said they were suffering from “partial deafness”.
It was later established, once already in the police van, that they were arrested for contravening the National Key Points Act. By 3.30pm, the students were outside the parliamentary precinct, where they had started gathering at noon – and the gates to Parliament were locked.
Nzimande, accompanied by Police Minister Nkosinathi Nhleko, State Security Minister David Mahlobo and Defence Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula, were behind the green railings, surrounded by bodyguards, at the parliamentary side entrance. – Additional reporting by Siyabonga Mkhwanazi and ANA
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