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This article appeared in the Herald of 22 September 2016.

Eight held after stun grenades fired near Boardwalk complex

A PLANNED march by NMMU students turned chaotic yesterday after police used stun grenades to rein in the crowd of nearly 1 000 protesters. Eight students were arrested for contravening the national Road Traffic Act and obstructing police in their duties when a group tried to storm the Marine Drive entrance of The Boardwalk in Summerstrand.

The arrested students were taken to the Humewood police station, where they were granted bail of R50 each last night. They are to appear in court today. The large group of NMMU students were protesting for a second day after rejecting Higher Education Minister Blade Nzimande’s fee adjustment announcement on Monday.

Students also demanded free education for the poor.

The protests began early yesterday when a small group entered various on-campus residences at the university’s north and south campus to gather supporters.

By midday, the crowd had grown to nearly 300 as they met at NMMU’s Kraal for talks with management.

Addressing the protesters, student leader Yandisa Ndzoyiya said the purpose of the protest was to inconvenience people, before calling on students to take to the streets.

“The outside community must pledge solidarity with us,” he said, suggesting students march to the nearby entertainment complex.

SRC president Nicholas Nyati said it was up to students to devise a way forward in creating awareness of the fight for free education for the poor.

He called on university management to join their protests.

NMMU acting vice-chancellor Dr Sibongile Muthwa, who had pledged on Tuesday to support and endorse students’ demands for free education, said as it was a democratic country, staff members who wanted to join the march were free to do so.

The students agreed to march peacefully to NMMU’s Second Avenue campus after discussions with police.

Officers agreed to escort them along Admiralty Way, across Strandfontein Road and then down Second Avenue.

The number of students swelled to 1 000 during the march.

They then blocked off the entrance of The Boardwalk after they were denied entry by the police.

As tensions escalated, police donned riot gear and forced the students to the opposite side of the road. The agitated students retaliated by throwing stones and water bottles at them.

Stun grenades were fired at the students, who scattered.

Third-year psychology student Ntsako Mogana, 21, said: “I was traumatised when the police fired the stun grenades.”

Once peace was restored, the students split into smaller groups, with one group of about 150 making its way to The Boardwalk’s Marine Drive entrance, where they were met by police and traffic officials.

The students were warned several times not to enter, but stormed the entrance. Police fired more stun grenades, sending some students fleeing onto Hobie Beach.

Others ran into the water as police chased after them with weapons loaded with rubber bullets. No shots were fired. In the ensuing chaos, five female students and three male students were thrown into the back of two police vans on the scene.

Second-year BCom accounting student Luvusiko Nkwazi, 19, said: “The police acted unfairly towards us today because they should understand our plight.

“We did not come here to be violent – we were merely making a statement and want to be taken seriously.”

The SRC’s Nyati said he was concerned that there were different groups acting on their own during and after what he described as the symbolic march of solidarity.

“Let us be frank, some students were out of control,” he said.

Nyati said the SRC would release a statement after a meeting was held with the organisation’s executive committee and all students.

NMMU spokeswoman Zandile Mbabela said after the university’s management had held a meeting with students earlier in the day, it became clear that the students had not finalised their position and it was decided to give them more time. The students were told that management would be available if required.

“The university has always understood that students would want to make their struggle for free education known broadly, which we understood to be the intention for the march,” Mbabela said.

“Management understands that a number of our students have been arrested and we are still trying to establish the facts around that.” – Additional reporting by Amir Chetty 

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