Student protests: ‘Kill the UJ dogs’

2015-11-08 15:40

Asked last night about the fate of the 141 arrested students and workers, deputy vice-chancellor: strategic services, Mpho Letlape, of the University of Johannesburg (UJ), said: “I believe they have been released with a warning and will return to court on Monday [tomorrow].”

Supporters of the students and workers, who were arrested for protesting outside UJ on Friday, held a night vigil on the same day while awaiting news of those arrested.

When asked why such heavy-handed tactics were used during this week’s protests, Letlape said: “We have 42 000 undergraduate students and 3 500 honours students whose parents and guardians have entrusted into our care.

There were arson attempts from Wednesday onwards that began to threaten the safety and security of those students.

“We needed to do all we could to safeguard their safety, including that of our staff and students, hence the need to physically remove the protesters who were no longer protesting peacefully.”

It had been a week of escalated tensions for the workers and students who took on UJ’s management in protests that turned violent and led to beatings and arrests. The protests, calling for an end to the outsourcing of services and leniency for poor students, turned violent when students and workers were beaten by security staff with batons on Thursday.

On Wednesday, workers and students slept at the university as part of their Occupy UJ strategy, which had started on Monday. On Thursday, they walked to the main entrance where their colleagues had been locked out after the university obtained an interdict against protesting students and workers.

All hell broke loose when students and workers clashed with campus and private security guards.

“On Monday, the head of security on campus told private security to ‘kill those dogs’,” a student told City Press.

Shortly before clashing with security, the group on campus decided to fetch their “comrades” from outside the campus, but were followed by security guards.

The situation quickly turned chaotic after a minor altercation with the guards escalated into open violence. A student was hit over the head with a baton and started to bleed. A female worker, seeing that he was about to fall over, lurched forward to grab him.

Campus security grabbed her so forcefully, the buttons of her blouse came flying off and she was dragged off in a chokehold, her bra exposed.

The security guards chased down others in the group, beating them with their fists, batons and other objects.

A woman pleaded with the men, but they ignored her and started pepper-spraying protesters. A student within close range of one pepper spray can was badly burnt by the spray, he tripped and pleaded for help.

Later that afternoon, vice-chancellor Ihron Rensburg said he was not willing to meet the group, which he said had caused significant damage to university property.

He said he had no authority to address workers who had their own bosses and stressed that all measures taken had been for the benefit of the 42 000 students who would sit for exams the next day.

On Friday morning, 13 workers were arrested for contravening a court order to stay 500m away from campus.

Just before 1pm, a group of about 150 made their way up the nearby Kingsway Road.

As they approached the main entrance, a human police barricade could be seen. The group walked in complete silence, hands held above their heads.

By 3pm, 141 of them had been arrested and taken to the Brixton Police Station. A group of students immediately set up camp there.

Lawyers were initially denied access to the group while the protesters were being charged, which went on into the early hours of Saturday morning.

A prosecutor showed up just after 8pm and agreed to let the group off with a warning, on condition that they appeared in court tomorrow. But the students still had to be charged. 

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May 24 2020