Violence mars Union Buildings protest

Karabo Ngoepe, Genevieve Quintal, and Adam Wakefield, News24

Pretoria - Violence has marred a mass demonstration of students against high university fees at the Union Buildings in Pretoria on Friday, with police firing stun grenades and tear gas at violent students.

Thousands of students had travelled from around Pretoria and Johannesburg to attend the demonstration, which gradually degenerated into violent scenes at a fence erected on the south lawn separating the students from the Union Buildings.

Students who had come to protest peacefully were overshadowed by a minority of students at the fence, many of them wearing t-shirts bearing the branding of the Economic Freedom Fighters, the SA Students Congress, ANC Youth League, and the Pan Africanist Movement of Azania.

Those at the front of fence antagonised riot police by tearing down the fence, and throwing stones, bricks and other objects at police and even media.

As the day stretched into early Friday afternoon, police fired a few rounds of tear gas with the crowd scattering. With tear gas fired around 14:00, students started dispersing from the lawn, running towards the Stanza Bopane Street and climbing over the south lawn fencing.

A police helicopter was seen hovering overhead by the Union Buildings, with police by the buildings themselves having earlier used stun grenades, a water cannon, and barbed wire to control the situation after the fence was broken down. By 14:15, a fraction of those who were on the lawns prior to noon remained, as the demonstration broke up, losing its purpose, with students scattered on the streets singing.
However, the students were later told to come back as Zuma had concluded his meeting and would address the protesters shortly.

Around the vicinity of the Union Buildings property, water bottles and papers were scattered on the street, as people observed from balconies on streets lining Stanza Bopane Street.

All media houses had parked their various vehicles on Stanza Bopane Street.

The demonstration broke up while President Jacob Zuma continued his meeting with student leaders and university vice-chancellors to see a way out of the current impasse. Zuma was expected to address waiting students once the meeting was completed.

Reports indicated that Wits University students who had arrived later at the demonstration refused to join it, as they refused to support the violence taking place on the south lawns.

They instead went about marching in the streets.

The demonstrations were sparked last week by Wits University students, who blockaded the entrance to the Johannesburg university's campus after the institution indicated it would raise fees by 10.5% for 2016.

Demonstrations later spread to Rhodes University, Stellenbosch University, the University of Cape Town, Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University, the University of Pretoria, the University of the Free State, the University of Limpopo, the University of KwaZulu-Natal, Tshwane University of Technology, including its campus in Mbombela, the Cape Peninsula University of Technology, the University of the Western Cape, Walter Sisulu University, the University of Johannesburg and the University of Fort Hare.