Student activism at Rhodes University has been been slowly rising all year, as have the protests in the wider community and South Africa as a whole. But today marks a significant spark in the story – today we met the riot truck.
From talks and tyres
to riot trucks
19 October 2015: Tuesday: The university is closed, the streets are carrying crowds and a dialogue turns into a violently dispersed crowd.
7:30 Tuesday, 19 October 2015Rhodes University is closed today.
9:02 Dear All On Friday 16 October 2015, the Deputy Vice-Chancellor: Research and Development and the Deputy Director Finance were invited to a meeting with students. The main issues raised were that of the Minimum Initial Payment (MIP) and fee increases. A meeting between the SRC and Top Management is scheduled for 08h30 on Monday morning (19 October 2015) to discuss these further. We have become aware of the blockading of entrances to campus by students who have also embarked on protest action in the residences in the early hours of Monday morning (19 October 2015).In the light of this action it has been decided to suspend all academic activities planned and scheduled for Monday 19 October 2015. Dr Sizwe Mabizela Vice Chancellor
9:03 The roads to the university have been barricaded with desks and dustbins. Tyres have already been burnt.
9:05 The crowd gathered on the corner of Prince Alfred street and Somerset street. It’s an illegal protest insofar as the municipality was not formally notified. But behind the yellow tape, protestors are safe.
9:14 From the other side of the crowd, it’s a less dramatic scene.
9:23 Dr Mabizela sat in the centre of the group, and people sat, knelt and stood around him.
9:25 Some students brought a desk that had been used as part of the barricade, and positioned it in the middle of the crowd as a stage for Dr Mabizela and the other speakers.
9:28 Through a failing megaphone, he addressed the crowd. Amandla! Awethu!
9:42 “We demand not a decrease, but a complete fall of the MIP” – students
10:17 In order to afford the academics and infrastructure of the university in a country with a crippling economy and weakening Rand, university fees will go up if the government cannot find a solution to this national dilhemma.
10:48 Dr Mabizela addressed reporters from national news agencies.
10:48 He discussed the issues of access to higher education in this country. Either you have to be incredibly wealthy to afford it, or incredibly desperate to qualify for financial support.
10:51 He addressed a second group of journalists, repeating the same sentiments.
2:10 Another barricaded road into the university.
2:55 The crowd moved from behind the yellow tape and into the Somerset and New street intersection.
2:55 A protestor bounced a tyre while a police car moved towards, and then away from the chanting crowd.
3:00 The gathering moved into the centre of the intersection before heading down Somerset street.
3:04 And so the protest moved from Rhodes University campus, to East Midlands College.
3:23 Tyres were set alight, along with a strip of police tape, plastic bottles and newspaper.
3:31 (This was a panorama-gone-wrong)
3:24 The tyres blazed and burned, sending black chimneys into the sky.
3:38 Against the fence the fire burned, and the crowd danced and chanted in the street.
3:48 The tyres had burned their brightest and began to turn to rubbery ash when the fire truck arrived.
3:55 The firetruck approached, retreated and re-approached the scene before parking in front of the miserable tyres and hosing out the flickering flames.
3:55 The black smoke was replaced with a white cloud of water. The fireman filled the bottles of several thirsty protestors, before spraying the crowd
3:58 Filthy water streamed from the charred rubber corpses.
4:17 While the gathering of protestors continued to chant, the riot truck arrived and surveyed the scene for a short while. (Isn’t it illegal to drive with a broken number plate?) Several police cars and vans were also parked along the road, and one car contained a beautiful alsation and a black labrador.
4:26 The police herded everybody into the area in front of the riot truck – a rolling metal bully.
4:26 The truck proceeded to spray the crowd with blue tear gas – is that a high pressure hose? – while police shouted at anybody who tried to escape the spray by running for protection behind the law enforcers.
4:28 And the riot truck rolled on, spraying, stinging and dispersing the crowd.