Students form a guard of honour in respect of the 35-year-old man who was killed during clashes between the police and Wits University students. Picture: Itumeleng English/African News Agency(ANA)
Students form a guard of honour in respect of the 35-year-old man who was killed during clashes between the police and Wits University students. Picture: Itumeleng English/African News Agency(ANA)

Wits protest: Ipid investigating man’s death as a result of police action

By Sihle Mlambo, Jonisayi Maromo Time of article published Mar 11, 2021

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Johannesburg - The Independent Police Investigative Directorate (IPID) says they are “working around the clock” to investigate the death of a man as a result of police action during the Wits students’ protest in Johannesburg on Wednesday.

Hundreds of students took to the streets of Joburg to protest against being financially excluded. They also called for free education.

During the protests, police fired a rubber bullet and fatally wounded a 35-year-old man who had reportedly been in the Braamfontein area to see a medical doctor.

Footage of the incident was doing the rounds on social media on Wednesday.

Ipid said late on Wednesday night that its investigation team were “processing voluminous evidence gathered in the crime scene during the preliminary investigation it conducted”.

“During the preliminary investigation the Directorate has managed to collect numerous witness statements, to confiscate firearms and the same will be taken for ballistic analysis, post mortem to determine actual cause of death will be conducted later this week, family liaison has started and the investigation continues.”

The man’s identity has not been released yet.

Gauteng police confirmed that five students were arrested.

“About five suspects were arrested and charged with public violence but police continue to monitor the situation,” said Gauteng police spokesperson Kay Makhubela.

Two student journalists, who were reporting on the protests on Wednesday, were among those wounded by police’s rubber bullets.

One of the wounded student journalists, Nondu Lehutso, took to Twitter to relay the incident. She said she had been transferred to the Charlotte Maxeke Hospital as the rubber bullet wound was deep.

Later, she relayed how the police officer shot her despite the cop telling her to run.

“I still can’t believe what has happened to me today. The officer who shot me screamed ‘baleka, run!’. I ran and he still shot at me, twice.

“I’m here asking myself, what would have been enough, apart from holding my hands up with nothing else, that would have stopped him?” she said.

Wits University spokesperson Shirona Patel said the university community was “deeply saddened” by the death of the 35-year-old man.

She said the university had made available health and counselling services to students and members of the community who required assistance.

“We note with deep concern the escalation of the situation which is regrettable, and we call on all persons to remain calm during this difficult time. We remain committed to seeking creative, peaceful solutions to any outstanding issues in the higher education sector,” said Patel.

Enraged secretary general of civil rights movement #NotInMyName Themba Masango called for the speedy arrest of the police officer who allegedly shot the unidentified man.

“The reported murder of a civilian is a another indictment to the bloodthirsty nature police have in this country. Once again, their brutal hand has left an innocent black man dead in the streets of Johannesburg. This is all because students are pursuing a noble cause for access to education. One wonders if the police have any regard for life and education in this country,” said Masango.

“#NotInMyName calls for the speediest arrest of the police officers who were involved in the reckless opening of live fire on peaceful protesters and civilians. We further call on President Cyril Ramaphosa to come out and publicly admonish the Minister of Police Bheki Cele and his bloodthirsty troops and to review the tactics which public order police officers discharge their work while dealing with students and civilians.”

Masango said South African communities “cannot continue to be handled with apartheid-like force by the very state”.

“We also urge the Minister of Higher Education Blade Nzimande to bring an end to this issue of student funding in South Africa. We need the political will that ends the vicious cycle of the poor being unable to register in institutions of higher learning. Education is a constitutional right of all who desire to study,” he said.

Shenilla Mohamed, executive director of Amnesty International South Africa, said: “We are seriously alarmed at reports that one person has been killed, allegedly by the police, and countless others shot at with rubber bullets. Security forces must guarantee students’ right to peaceful assembly and refrain from using excessive force.

““Students have a right to express their grievances and the authorities must respect this right. They must also ensure the protection of all bystanders. No one should die or be injured while exercising their basic rights.”

Mohamed called on law-enforcement officials to comply with international and national laws and standards governing the use of force in policing protests and to use force only when necessary and proportionate.

“We call on the university authorities, the Independent Police Investigative Directorate (IPID) and Minister Blade Nzimande to expedite a prompt, independent and effective investigation into the shooting that led to the death of a bystander today, and make sure that, if force was used in an abusive manner, all those responsible are brought to justice. It is deeply concerning that the use of rubber bullets is still being condoned by the authorities,” said Mohamed.

Meanwhile, Leana de Beer, CEO of local student crowdfunding platform Feenix, said the South African economy stands to be the biggest beneficiary if the country’s funding woes in the tertiary sector are resolved. To this end, De Beer said nothing but a concerted team effort is required from all stakeholders and supporting role players.

“The pandemic and struggling economy have left countless families in a position where the budgets have been severely impacted, which in turn has meant that many university students are unable to settle their outstanding debt or pay their registration fees,” said De Beer.


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