November 13 was a cool summer’s night. Students and university workers gathered in the park over the road from the University of Johannesburg to partake in a peaceful vigil against police brutality and in continuation of the #FeesMustFall protest. They hoped it would not rain as the vigil was to last a few hours.
A police barrier line was placed along the road over which students were not allowed to cross. Police officers armed with rubber bullets and pepper spray gathered on the other side of the road in front of the university. Struggle songs filled the night air mingling with the sound of traffic from the constant stream of cars that passed by on the main road between them.
At around 9.45pm social justice activist and filmmaker Sipho Singiswa arrived on the scene. As he reached for his video camera in the boot of his car, police opened fire. He ducked the rubber bullets, grabbed his camera and started filming. What he captured was a one-hour video of what looked like open hunting season on the youth. Gunshots and screams filled the night air.
The police, many of whom had Johannesburg Metropolitan Police Department bulletproof vests on, chased fleeing students and shot them from behind. Some were shot in their buttocks, some on their backs, arms and hands. One young woman was rushed to Milpark Hospital after being shot at close range in the side of her throat. She testified that the officer looked her straight in the eyes and shot at her.
In another scene you hear a police officer shout, “Jou moerskont! Come here you shit … come here jou fokken hond,” while he runs after a fleeing student shooting at him from the back. In the background you hear police officers shouting, shoot him shoot him.
A young woman loses it. She shouts at the policemen. “Shoot me, shoot me. You want to kill me so just shoot.” The officers laugh or click their tongues and tell her to move on. But she can’t. Her adrenaline, her rage, her disbelief that middle-aged black men would treat their own children like this. She shouts at them: “You are killing your children — can’t you see that you are killing your children!”
A scuffle ensues and a group of policemen manhandle a young man. He manages to escape from his coat. As he runs away from them two officers open fire and hit him in the back. A student leader gently explains to an officer that it is their right to protest. The cop tells him — “You’re still alive — you should be happy for that”
“This was planned as a peaceful vigil. No one was looking for trouble or provoking the police,” says a Wits academic who was on the scene. She tells Singiswa on camera that at around 9.40pm, after the police barrier looked like it was removed, some students moved across the road to go to the library. This is when all hell broke loose and police allegedly violated all protocol and attacked the students in a bizarre and brutal scene that lasted over an hour. As incriminating as it was, it was not reported in mainstream media and only Singiswa’s video testified to the horror of the extent of the war that the state declared on the students in the #FeesMustFall campaign. The video received more than 12 700 hits in a few days.
According to a report: ” … The police justified their use of force on the ground that the officers were enforcing an interdict that had been granted to the University on 23 October 2015 and amended on 6 November 2015. However, the interdict (as amended) does not apply to the protesters in question. It has been misapplied and used for the unlawful purpose of stamping out all protests, however peaceful and legitimate. To the extent that the interdict is found to apply to any of the applicants, it was erroneously granted in the absence of interested and affected parties; while it is capable of rescission, it is still being used unlawfully to intimidate and abuse students and workers.”
Other incidents of police brutality on other previously black campuses, where police had allegedly been even more ruthless than this, were also under-reported in the mainstream media.
Yet the ANC continues to call the students violent, casting them as perpetrators in what appears to be a propaganda campaign designed to undermine the student collective and cast fear and loathing into the hearts and minds of the general public. This is reminiscent of the conservative media and state collusion in 2012 in which they set about demonising the Marikana strikers to legitimise the state-sanctioned brutality used against them.
In an excerpt from the National Executive Committee (NEC) report released by Gwede Mantashe on November 30 this year the ANC outlined its concerns about the early signs of a counter-revolution that has “been identified” in the recent student uprisings. This comes after the meeting of the NEC held on November 27-28 where among other issues, it reflected on heightened student activism during 2015.
The excerpt reads as follows:
The NEC reflected on heightened student activism during 2015 and applauded the increased conscientisation of students across race and political affiliation; a necessary precondition for the people to be agents of change. On the student protests, the NEC re-affirmed the view that the demand of no fee increase in 2016 was understandable and reasonable.
The swift response of government was appreciated. The NEC however expressed grave concerns about attempts to use genuine concerns of students for other objectives. The question of using students’ grievances to raise issues of collective bargaining was seen as opportunistic. Raising new demands when the original demands were met was seen as an effort to agitate and sustain discontent.
The destruction of property and facilities that are of service to the students themselves was condemned as the work of anarchists who are intent to destroy the future of many students.
Blocking students from writing their year-end examinations after their demand was addressed positively and commitment to further engage was made, was identified as part of the programme to destabilise the country.
Early signs of counter-revolution were identified as follows: –
* Targeting the state and state institutions, particularly the attempt to storm Parliament and Union Buildings when the government was amenable to engagement.
* Slogans about regime change when issues were being addressed.
* Foreign funding that was channelled to various student accounts in a number of campuses.
* Provocation of police into confrontation with the pronounced desire to trigger a massacre, “another Marikana.”
* Setting up of units of destruction in the various campuses under the slogan of total shut-down.
* Undermining of elected Students’ Representative Councils and replacing them with student committees led by individuals from organisations that lost SRC elections.
In view of the above there was agreement that the people of South Africa should be more vigilant and appreciate that the broader threats of counter-revolution beyond the university campuses, as witnessed in other countries, are a reality of the day. The killing of police is part of the programme to undermine the state. The NEC appealed to all South Africans to support the police and encourage them to act decisively in instances of anarchy and blatant undermining of the state and its institutions. Police must be able to ensure the maximum safety and security of the citizens at all time.
Says Singiswa, who was a student leader in the 1976 student uprisings and jailed for seven years as a result, “The old apartheid state did the same thing to us when we were in jail. They wasted a lot of time torturing us to find out who our handlers were and refused to understand that we did not have handlers. It was we, the teenagers, who were protesting and there were no foreign or other forces involved. It is sad that these former liberation soldiers are now using the same tactics of the former South African police and apartheid officials. They are clearly desperate and clutching at straws.”
And students interviewed by Singiswa say that this is just a desperate attempt to deflect the blame onto them. They say that if there is another Marikana it will only be because the ANC-led government has not listened to their cry for equality and a better life and seeks to oppress them further.
Says one student, “If there is any blood spilled it will not be from us — it is they who will end up with our blood on their hands — not the other way round. They are allowing the police to be extra violent towards us even though we are participating in peaceful resistance just like they did in 1976. It is sad that they have forgotten.”