The South African Police Service is continuing to monitor protest action taking place as part of the #FeesMustFall initiative at various campuses across the country.
Earlier today I personally visited Gauteng campuses and experienced first-hand incidents that were unfolding in and around the University of the Witwatersrand campus. We were then surprised when we read an online media report which stated that “Rubber bullets and tear gas were once again fired at protesting Wits university students, this time in the streets of Braamfontein”. The article went on to state that “hundreds of students were seen running for cover in the busy streets, with passers-by also being caught in the stand-off”. This gives the impression of police brutality whereas I witnessed the students stoning the police and security personnel, to a point where the police had to take action in order to restore stability and protect themselves and others. In light of this contradiction between what I witnessed and what was reported, we call on all media representatives to report accurately and objectively, without resorting to sensationalism, exacerbating a situation which is already volatile .
It is extremely concerning to note that criminality, intimidation and attacks on police members have taken place at some universities, leaving the SAPS members deployed with no option but to respond with a degree of force in order to stabilise the situation.
I wish to emphasise that our members have continued to display maximum restraint in the face of severe provocation. In some instances there have been running battles between the police and protesting students, who have disrupted classes and traffic, pelted police with rocks, flooded premises with water from fire hoses, discharged fire extinguishers, overturned a vehicle and set property alight.
As early as 08:00 this morning, students at Rhodes University disrupted classes, flooded premises and emptied rubbish bins. Five students were arrested.
There were also disruptions at the Mahikeng Campus of the North West University early this morning and students were dispersed by the police.
In the Free State, 20 students were arrested at the University of the Free State in relation to public violence and contravening a court order.
At the Westville campus of the University of KwaZulu-Natal and at the University of the Witwatersrand (Wits) in Gauteng, the police came under constant attack by groups of students who pelted them with rocks.
At the UKZN Westville campus, Public Order Policing shields were damaged and at least two police members sustained injuries to their arms and were conveyed to hospital. This indicates the size of the rocks and the force with which they were hurled at the police.
At Wits, groups of students continuously disrupted and intimidated those wishing to attend classes, even chasing them out of classes with sticks. They not only provoked the police but also blockaded traffic in Braamfontein.
This type of behaviour can never be condoned by any law-abiding person and is to be roundly condemned. Attacks on law enforcement officials, constitutionally mandated to uphold the laws of the land, can only be described as an attack on the State itself.
The Dangerous Weapons Act of 2013 and the Regulation of Gatherings Act of 1993, provide for the rights of citizens to gather peacefully, but to do so without bearing dangerous weapons, inflicting harm on others or damaging property or infrastructure.
In order to ensure peace and stability and to protect the life and property of people in South Africa, the SAPS will enforce these Acts decisively.
We yet again call upon students leaders, students and all interested parties to act with the utmost restraint and calm at all times. We condemn any incitement to violence and regard inflammatory statements as being most reckless, especially at this time. In a daily newspaper of today, a so-called student leader was quoted as saying: “Our blood can spill on the university grounds. We are prepared to sacrifice our blood for the sake of a better future for many young people”. That utterance, if true, is extremely reckless and we, the SAPS, reject it out of hand. We are determined, and have proved this point, that our members will exercise restraint so that no student should be harmed while we attempt to maintain stability and safety in our country. We remain resolute in this regards.
We also request academics to be true academics and not to make inflammatory remarks that could tend to exacerbate the situation.
We thank the students at the universities which have maintained a calm presence during the course of today. We urge them to continue to let their voices be heard in a sensible, non-violent manner and wish them luck in their studies.
The SAPS members on duty today and over the past weeks are commended on their discipline and commitment. Theirs is not an easy task. They have been called upon to protect lives and property in the middle of a dispute that is not of their making. Many, if not most, of them are parents and to be attacked, insulted and assaulted by the youth who they only want to protect, is a bitter pill to swallow.
The police will continue to do our duties wherever needed. We make an urgent call to all concerned to be responsible and act within the confines of the law. As we have said more than once, we believe that dialogue takes precedence and we urge our future leaders not to jeopardise their futures by heeding the calls of those with their own agendas to engage in lawlessness and criminality.