Police watchdog investigators comb scene of fatal Wits protest shooting

10 March 2021 - 14:08 By Iavan Pijoos and Shonisani Tshikalange
A man died during violent clashes between the police and protesting Wits University students in Braamfontein, Johannesburg, on Wednesday.
A man died during violent clashes between the police and protesting Wits University students in Braamfontein, Johannesburg, on Wednesday.
Image: Alon Skuy/ Sunday Times

The Independent Police Investigative Directorate (Ipid) dispatched four investigation officers to the scene of a fatal shooting where protesting Wits students and the police clashed in Johannesburg on Wednesday.

The man appeared to have been struck by rubber bullets as he exited a clinic in Braamfontein.

Netcare 911 spokesperson Shawn Herbst said the man was struck twice as he left the building and died at the scene.

Wits student Bongani Makhanya, who was close to the scene at the time, said the police had opened fire at students “without warning”.

The 21-year-old said students were singing when the police arrived in vans and started shooting.

Police watchdog Ipid has sent a team to investigate allegations against police officers after a Wits student protest took a tragic turn on March 10 2021. A man was allegedly killed by police as they fired rubber rounds to disperse protesters. Students, who are protesting against financial exclusion, have vowed to carry on the protest.

“They didn’t ask any questions, they just started opening fire and shooting [towards] everyone who was in the area,” he alleged. “When they did that, people dispersed and they still continued to shoot ... a person was shot.

“They ended up arresting anyone who looked like a student. We faced a lot of violence, even us who were bystanders watching,” he said.

Ipid spokesperson Ndileka Cola said the directorate was informed about a shooting by the Hillbrow police station earlier on Wednesday.

“The team will ... cordon the crime scene and conduct an investigation, including locating the person with video footage [and] identify eyewitnesses,” said Cola.

They didn’t give us the time to disperse - they shot at us at first glance, no warning at all.
Wits student Bongani Makhanya

“Furthermore, Ipid will ensure the body is protected and carried safely to the mortuary. If this incident is within the mandate of Ipid, the normal investigation process will unfold.”

Makhanya said students were “emotional and angry” at how officers had handled the situation.

“We don’t feel safe, we have always been brutalised. Yesterday they did the same thing at the medical school - they fired, beat us up and arrested some of us. 

“They didn’t give us the time to disperse - they shot at us at first glance, no warning at all. As a black student, how do you feel safe when there has been repeated violence against us?

“Someone has to account, right now we are angry and frustrated and we have been hiding from the police,” he said.

DA Gauteng spokesperson for community safety, Crezane Bosch, called on Wits University and student bodies to hold an urgent meeting to resolve the impasse.

The National Education, Health and Allied Workers’ Union (Nehawu) condemned the alleged use of force by the police.

“For the past two days, students have been protesting for funding and access for deserving students. This comes after many students, especially first-year students, have been unable to access funding to get education at the university,” the union said in a statement.

“Police have been known to be high-handed against students and many protesting students have been at the receiving end of police brutality.”

The union called on higher education and training minister Blade Nzimande to urgently resolve the issue of student funding.

The SABC reported earlier on Wednesday that Nzimande said former president Jacob Zuma’s previous announcement about free higher education for poor students had  caused major problems for the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS).

Zuma made the announcement in December 2017.

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