It took just one stone thrown at the police to end what had begun as a peaceful Fees Must Fall march to the Union Buildings in Pretoria today.
This was just moments before a memorandum containing students’ demands could be handed over to a government representative.
After the announcement that the memorandum would be handed over, protesters demanded to know who the government representative was and started screaming “who are you, who are you”.
Student leaders called for peace and discipline when they addressed students but this did not last long.
When stones were thrown, the police responded with a stun grenade and few sprays from the water-cannon, which saw students fleeing in all directions only for them to regroup.
While most students remained outside the fenced Union Buildings lawns, a handful of them came back although their numbers decreased after police in riot gear started marching towards them. A police helicopter and a light aircraft hovered above, monitoring the situation.
A small number of protesters continued screaming at the police who were unmoved by all the insults. Nyalas and water-cannons were parked the expansive lawns.
The march – which started at Church Square in central Pretoria this morning – was peaceful until that first stone flew over the fence right under the statue of Nelson Mandela overlooking the lawns.
Students were addressed by different leaders who reiterated their national call for free tertiary education for all.
Turn universities into prisons
Pan Africanist Students Movement of Azania leader Vusi Mahlangu said students should not be deterred and scared of being arrested because “education was free inside prison”.
He further urged government to “turn all universities into prisons so we can learn for free”.
Meanwhile, one of the speakers from ReformPuk – an organisation campaigning for transformation at the North West University in Potchefstroom – asked the students to do what Nelson Mandela said: “If the ANC does not help us and goes against us we must remove them like we removed the apartheid government.”
Students who camped outside one of the gates, singing, started dispersing just after 3pm while police monitored them closely.