Outrage over death of ‘innocent bystander’ at student protest
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Johannesburg - South African President Cyril Ramaphosa led the chorus of outrage from the country’s politicians following the death of a government employee during a student protest outside the University of the Witwatersrand (Wits) on March 10.
The man died as students and police clashed in Braamfontein, Johannesburg.
“Mthokozisi Ntumba was an innocent bystander and, indeed, even the students, much as they were protesting, the way I saw it on television, did not warrant the type of resistance and push from the police,” said Ramaphosa.
Ramaphosa said he had asked the Wits University Council and its management as well as the relevant law enforcement authorities’ agencies to provide an explanation on what caused this tragedy, and to take whatever steps needed to ensure justice was done.
Minister of Higher Education and Training, Science and Technology, Blade Nzimande, said on March 11 the Cabinet agreed that funding should be reprioritised from the budget of the South African Department of Higher Education and Training in order to ensure all deserving National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) qualifying students were able to receive funding support for the 2021 academic year.
NSFAS, the government’s loan scheme, will now be able to release funds for new students qualifying for NSFAS financial support.
Police Minister Bheki Cele described the shooting of the father of three in Johannesburg as unacceptable.
University of the Witwatersrand Vice-Chancellor Professor Zeblon Vilakazi addressed the media earlier on the student fee crisis, offering condolences to the family of the victim and saying there was a “global” problem to fund tertiary students.
The students were protesting against the exclusion of students over unpaid fees. “The university extends its condolences to the family of the deceased. The university condemns any form of violence and calls on all persons to keep calm during this very difficult time,” it said in a statement.
Two students from the Wits journalism department, Voice of Wits reporter Nondumiso Lehutso and Vuvuzela scribe Aphelele Buqwana, were ordered to leave the scene by police and were allegedly fired at by the same officer.
They sustained serious wounds and were taken to Milpark Hospital nearby.
The group of protesters were demanding free education for all and registration of all students with historical debt.
But Wits said earlier that, if it accepted students with historical debt, the institution would become financially unsustainable, adding that it was owed R1 billion ($66.3 million) in outstanding fees accumulated over the past seven years.
To alleviate the financial crisis, Wits University has made available R20 million for students facing financial hardship, while R100 million has been allocated to financial aid through bursaries and scholarships.
In the aftermath of the protests, the university made available health and counselling services to students and members of the community needing assistance.
Wits said it was committed to seeking creative, peaceful solutions to any outstanding issues in the higher education sector.
South Africa’s Independent Police Investigative Directorate spokesperson, Ndileka Cola, confirmed that it had been notified by the Hillbrow police station of an incident in Braamfontein, Johannesburg, earlier in the day.
The directorate will conduct investigations, including locating a person said to have video footage, and witnesses.
In a statement, the South African National Editors’ Forum (SANEF) called on the police to stand by its motto, “protect and serve”.
“They have a pressing obligation to defend journalism with all their strength against the many dangers that threaten it, of which gender-based violence and sexual bullying and attacks are a part.