'I warned the issue would get emotional': Thuli Madonsela to Blade Nzimande on Wits protest

11 March 2021 - 11:38 By unathi nkanjeni
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Former public protector Thuli Madonsela. File image.
Former public protector Thuli Madonsela. File image.
Image: Gallo Images/Darren Stewart

Former public protector Thuli Madonsela has expressed dismay at the outcomes of the fees protest at the University of Witwatersrand, saying she warned it would happen.

On Wednesday, Mthokozisi Ntumba, 35, was shot dead when rubber bullets, allegedly fired by the police, were directed at protesting Wits students.

Ntumba, a bystander, was struck while leaving a nearby clinic in Braamfontein.

Multiple videos and images were circulated on social media showing Ntumba lying on the pavement and his body covered with a foil blanket.

His death is being investigated by the Independent Police Investigative Directorate (Ipid).

Weighing in on the matter, Madonsela urged the SA Police Service and higher education minister Blade Nzimande to handle the protest with care.

“I warned that the issue of financial and other university exclusions would get emotional. We are all fragile because of Covid-19,” said Madonsela.

Madonsela slammed the government for not implementing a limiting order to tertiary institutions, as it did with landlords regarding evicting tenants during the height of the pandemic.

“Violence is not the answer,” said Madonsela.

She urged the public to stop referring to Ntumba as a civilian, saying students were civilians too.

“To SA Police Service, we told you during #FeesMustFall to stop using rubber bullets. Please use human rights-aligned ways of public policing,” she said.

She also said, to enhance grievance, Ntumba must be named and more about him known, so that people could hear about what he did while he was alive and grieve his death.

Madonsela has been vocal about the issues facing students and fees.

Last week, she pleaded with President Cyril Ramaphosa and Nzimande to withdraw the order that the University of SA (Unisa) should reduce its number of first-time students this year by 20,000.

The plea came after Nzimande last month ordered Unisa to reduce its intake of first-time students, saying it had over-enrolled by about 20,000 last year.

Madonsela said the move to deregister students could lead to disruptions by “angry students”.

“Please withdraw the order to Unisa to deregister 20,000 first-year students this year. As unemployment and poverty explode, we do not want angry young people seething over stolen dreams,” said Madonsela.

Last year, Madonsela climbed Table Mountain to raise funds for students struggling to pay their way through university.

“Student debt is a global impediment to access to higher education for many students, with some forced to abandon their studies when they are about to complete their degrees,” said Madonsela.

“The problem primarily affects students from the so-called 'missing middle' and students from poor working-class backgrounds that have fallen off the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) criteria, often for reasons beyond their control.

“The Covid-19 pandemic has thrown us a curveball this year, but with the relaxed restrictions, we are now ready to embark on our planned activities — of course with the necessary safety precautions in place.”

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