What started as a peaceful protest by frustrated Wits University students over the financial exclusion of some students due to historical debt, has claimed a life of a non-protesting bystander in Braamfontein, Johannesburg on Wednesday.
On Sunday, March 7, the university through its Twitter account announced that the academic year would get under way from Monday, 8 March 2021.
📢Wits University’s academic year begins on Monday, 8 March 2021. 35 000 students are registered for the 2021 academic year. The academic programme will take place online for the first semester for the most part, with only a fraction of the students returning to campus. pic.twitter.com/uTUqopMiY8
— Wits University (@WitsUniversity) March 7, 2021
This was despite concerns raised by some students over the exclusion of those with historical debt.
At that time, Wits University says it has made R10 million available to help students experiencing financial hardship and who have historical debt of up to R 120 000.
But students are calling for the financial exclusion cap to be increased to R150 000.
On Monday, #Witsasinamali (we don’t have money) gathered momentum with some social media users pledging their support for the students.
On Tuesday, protesting students rejected suggestions that the National Students Financial Aid Agency Scheme (NSFAS) has run out of money.
Earlier in the week, government said there was a shortfall in the National Student Financial Aid Scheme.
#WitsProtest dominating social media trends:
From Wednesday onwards, the #WitsProtest dominated Twitter trends throughout the week.
What a system? What a crime!
Videos and pictures of protesting students being manhandled and at some point being shot at with rubber bullets by SAPS officers were making the rounds on social media.
— Bonga Makhanya (@BongaOfficial) March 10, 2021
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The hashtag caught the attention of some top officials including Public Protector Advocate Busisiwe Mkhwebane.
Mkhwebane took to Twitter to call on Police Minister Bheki Cele and the South African Human Rights Commission to intervene.
Minister of Police and @SAHRCommission to intervene and act to make sure that Wits students are protected from violence at the hands of SAPS and University Management. We cannot have a country where our young people are brutalized by state and its institutions. #WitsAsinamali
— Adv Busisiwe Mkhwebane (@AdvBMkhwebane) March 10, 2021
Around midday, as police were firing rubber bullets trying to disperse the protesting students, a 35-year-old Mthokozisi Ntumba was shot and killed allegedly by the police.
In video footage that has surfaced, a police Nyala can be seen stopping next to a group of people and police officers opening fire at very close range.
Ntumba can be seen in the footage running for cover together with other people next to a parked vehicle after being shot at.
He was not part of the protesting students and he was coming from a clinic.
The 35-year-old died few minutes after the shooting.
Eyewitness reports say the person killed at the protest in Braamfontein was not a student:
Hashtag #MthokozisiNtumba #AndriesTatane trended on Thursday:
The shooting of Ntumba put police brutality under the spotlight yet again, with many reliving the moment when police officers shot and killed Andries Tatane in the Free State during a service delivery protest in 2013.
Others have likened the shooting of Ntumba with the shooting of Marikana mineworkers in 2012.
Many have called on SAPS to act against the officers, saying police brutality cannot be tolerated any longer.
On Thursday evening, students held a candlelight vigil at the spot where Mthokozisi was fatally shot in Braamfontein.
The video below is on the night vigil held in Braamfontein for Mthokozisi Ntumba:
#TitoMboweni trending on Wednesday
Finance Minister Tito Mboweni sent out a tweet on Wednesday saying according to the information he has received, there was no student who had been killed.
“According to information is that no student was killed,” said the minister in a tweet.
He described news that a person had been shot and killed during the student protest as ‘fake news’.
After receiving criticism from the public, the minister deleted the tweet and sent out another tweet apologising for his earlier tweet.
“My earlier tweet about the Wits protest meant to indicate that the person killed is not a student. But this does not in any way diminish the fact and tragedy of a loss of life. I did not express myself clearly and for that, I apologise. My deepest condolences,” reads the apology.
Some rejected the minister’s apology saying Ntumba died under the government which Mboweni is serving under.
APOLOGY: My earlier tweet about the Wits protest meant to indicate that the person killed today was NOT a student but this does not in any way diminish the fact and tragedy of a loss of life.
I did not express myself clearly and for that I apologize. My deepest condolences.
— Tito Mboweni (@tito_mboweni) March 10, 2021
On Monday morning, March 15, police cleared roads after students from the University of Johannesburg (UJ) blockaded several roads with burning tyres around the SABC in Auckland Park, Johannesburg.
The South African Students Congress (Sasco) and the Economic Freedom Fighters Student Command have also threatened to shut down all institutions of higher learning on Monday.