Victory for #FeesMustFall students amid dramatic protest at Union Buildings

23 October 2015 - 19:04 By Graeme Hosken


Government has caved in to the demands of thousands of South African tertiary students who have led a mass campaign against rising education costs. Over 15‚000 students from across Gauteng‚ Limpopo and North West on Friday descended on the Union Buildings in Pretoria on a day which was meant to be free of violence. Instead‚ hijackers of the #FeesMustFall campaign antagonised police‚ setting fire to tyres‚ portable toilets and pulling down fences surrounding the citadel of government.Those genuinely behind the campaign fought back‚ locking horns with the agitators who they pointed out to police.Those behind the cause of #FeesMustFall cheered as officers fired dozens of stun grenades and teargas canisters to disperse small pockets of people‚ who organisers claimed had been sent to deliberately destabilise the march.Peaceful students at the Union Buildings even began screaming #AgitatorsMustFall.Repeatedly‚ though‚ agitators hurled rocks at police and journalists‚ singing that President Jacob Zuma - who failed to address students - was a sell-out and an impimpi (spy).With a police helicopter circling over the Union Building lawns as black smoke from burning tyres billowed into the air‚ police repeatedly held themselves back.Police sources within the Tactical Response Team and Public Order Policing Unit said they were acting on strict orders not injure or hurt students. "Only as a last resort have we been told to fire. We can see who the genuine students are and who are the trouble-makers."I saw my daughter and our neighbours’ children here. I don’t want them here but I understand why they are here. I am working two jobs to have my daughter study at Pretoria University ... and am proud of her being here and what she is fighting for‚" he said.The officer said he and other policemen had instructed their children at university and technikons what to bring with them when coming to the Union Buildings to avoid succumbing to teargas and how to help isolate the rabble-rousers."We knew that people were sent deliberately to cause chaos. We knew that they were sent here to make our kids look bad ... those behind these antagonisers must be found and punished severely."Speaking as thousands of students linked arms and chanted "peace‚ peace‚ peace" and "we are not violent"‚ the officer said one of his wishes as a father was that the protesting children realised that there were people deliberately trying to hijack their "just cause". "I just hope and pray that they are strong enough to carry on with the cause and make changes and expose those behind the antagonisers."The running chaos culminated in a final street battle‚ when Zuma refused to come and address the students personally instead choosing to make a live TV announcement to the nation.As he announced a 0% fee increase‚ some in the crowd began hurling stones. Police retaliated with stun grenades and teargas.Students‚ trying to escape the noise and gas‚ stampeded through lawns of the Union Buildings out onto the streets.Dozens sought shelter in the Sheraton Hotel – which was also where the Vice Chancellors‚ who had earlier met with Zuma - were.As police sought them out‚ students took shelter in lifts and between international businessmen and their Vice Chancellors seated on the patio and in the bar."Just hide us‚ please pretend we are with you‚" said a student to an unnamed businessman as he sat drinking a glass of wine‚ as an armoured police Nyala drove through the hotel forecourt.Wits University’s Professor Adam Habib‚ speaking to The Times from the hotel‚ said he was happy that they students had effectively got what they wanted."Let’s hope that this [the violence] does not unravel everything that these students have fought for."Let’s hope that it is not for nought."

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