Week of Police Violence Against Protesting Students

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The call for #FreeEducationNow has once again been echoed by protesting students from all across the country. On 9 March 2021, students from the University of Witwatersrand (Wits) started protesting, blockaded entrances in Wits campuses, and busy streets in the Braamfontein, Milpark and Parktown area (in Johannesburg).

Some of the students demands included that financially excluded students be allowed to register, despite their historical debt, and for access to technology for remote learning.

During the protests happening in Braamfontein, the South African Police Services (SAPS) arrived at the scene and started firing rubber bullets at the students, ostensibly to disperse the protests. In this chaos, a 35-year-old man named Mthokozizi Ntumba unknowingly left a clinic he had visited for medical care, and was shot and killed by the police. Many other students and two student journalists were also injured by the police and taken for medical care. Some students were also arrested.

The news of the death of Ntumba sparked outrage from many sections of society, and protests and demonstrations of various organisations and activists against state and police violence took place on the following days.

Students from various tertiary institutions across South Africa have also taken to the streets this week to put the demands of #FeesMustFall back on the agenda and to denounce police brutality. On 10 March, TVET students affiliated with the EFF took the streets of Braamfontein to demonstrate, and on the following day, 11 March 2021, students protesting peacefully at the University of the Free State were brutalised by police using stun grenades, with 24 arrested. On 12 March, hundreds students at the University of Cape Town shut down campuses in protest.

Students have again raised the many problems experienced with National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS), particularly the consistent delay in releasing necessary registration, residence and related fees due to a shortfall of funds in NSFAS. Many students and their families are very concerned about the situation as registration processes and induction programmes are currently ongoing.

Minister of Higher Education, Blade Nzimande said on 8 March 2021 that NSFAS did not have enough funding for 2021. He also said that he acknowledges the pressure put on students by the delays. He claimed that the announcement made by former President Jacob Zuma in December 2017 stating that tertiary education is free to poor students has caused problems for NSFAS.

But on 11 March, after the killing of Ntumba and the wave of protests, Nzimande told the media in a briefing that Cabinet is now able to release the necessary funding.

Earlier this year many budget cuts to government institutions were announced and this included NSFAS. There are also claims of irregular expenditure done by NSFAS. The root of this expenditure is yet to be investigated, but in the meantime students continue to suffer.

This article was submitted on 10 March 2021. You may republish this article, so long as you credit the authors and Karibu! Online (www.Karibu.org.za), and do not change the text. Please include a link back to the original article.

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