Wednesday marked a month since the Fees Must Fall (FMF) protests began at the University of Witwatersrand (Wits). Over the last month what began with students singing and dancing as they protested for free education has turned into a war zone. The events that unfolded yesterday are testament to this.
Yesterday Wits confirmed there had been a fire in the Wartenweiler library the previous day. The fire began on the second floor of the library in the last aisle. In a statement, Wits said “security has determined that the fire was started with an accelerant or flammable substance.”
Wits confirmed that roughly 100 books were damaged. Currently Wits Security and police have begun a high-level investigation.
In addition to university infrastructure being damaged, FMF leaders were also injured when police opened fire on students with rubber bullets and stun grenades. Students were marching to Wits Science Stadium on West Campus. According to an eyewitness, Yamkela Gola, police informed students that they were not allowed to protest here as this area was not a designated protest area.
Gola told GroundUP that “Shaeera [Kalla] approached the police with her hands raised in order to negotiate for the students to hold a meeting. The police did not want to engage her.” He went on to explain that Kalla turned around to try calm students down. Gola said that once she had turned her back “there were around five cops about a metre away from her all shooting directly at her at close range.”
At 18:23 Kalla posted a statement on Facebook in which she said that she had been shot 13 times. Kalla went on to explain that “at about 12pm, I along with a group of students were peacefully protesting on West Campus when police once again unleashed violence on us.” Kalla was not the only leader to suffer injuries; Busisiwe Seabe experienced breathing problems after she inhaled tear gas. Seabe had to be put on oxygen; she was initially treated by campus health and later had to be taken to hospital.
The FMF protests continue as the call for free and decolonised education is yet to be met. Each week South Africans watch as tensions rise and the level of violence escalates on campuses across the country. It appears that reaching a resolution peacefully is unlikely.