Port Elizabeth Police fired rubber bullets at protesting Nelson Mandela Bay students on Wednesday, who took to the streets in solidarity with protesting students nationwide.
At least one student, identified as Noxolo Koko, was hit on the upper thigh.
Students throughout the country are protesting proposed fee hikes for 2016.
Police spokesperson, Captain Johan Rheeder, said police intervened early on Wednesday morning, after splinter groups of students blocked roads including Admiralty Way leading to the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University’s main campus, and started intimidating people in vehicles at around 07:00.
“Fifteen rubber bullet rounds were fired and police also used stun grenades and tear gas to disperse the crowd,” he said.
Rheeder said later on, at around 09:00, a road barricade had been blown over by the strong winds, which had caused students, who were sitting in the road singing revolutionary songs at the time, to scatter, with a few sustaining graze wounds in the process.
He said all students, including one student with a twisted ankle, were treated on scene by paramedics which were made available by the university.
By lunchtime the protest action had been limited to a small group of about 100 students sitting in the middle of the main road leading to the university’s South Campus.
Earlier Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University (NMMU) Vice Chancellor, Derrick Swartz, issued a statement informing colleagues and students that a group of students purporting to represent student organisations had informed the university of plans to protest.
“It should be noted that no attempt was made to follow university rules regarding protest action… and none of the existing channels of negotiation and consultation had been fully utilised or exhausted,” he said.
“Under these circumstances, it may not be possible to conduct normal business on our campuses, and I am therefore advising students and staff to exercise due caution in moving between and on campuses where access is permissible.”
Swartz said while the university fully upheld and respected the right to peaceful protest and freedom of expression, it also protected the equal rights of others not participating in the protest.
Lebogang Hashatse, the university’s spokesperson, said the situation had been monitored closely throughout the day and that the University would take the necessary steps to ensure the safety and security of students, staff and property.
NMMU advised that teaching and learning, and the rest of university business, would resume on Thursday morning as per usual.
Swartz is scheduled to engage with students on Thursday at 13:00 at the Madibaz Stadium on the South Campus.
Brigadier Marinda Mills said if students continued to break the law, police members would be left with no choice but to use the necessary measures to restore order. Mills said police warned the students several times to discontinue blocking traffic before firing rubber bullets.
DA mayoral candidate, Athol Trollip, however, condemned the firing of stun grenades and rubber bullets by SAPS, saying the students were peacefully protesting the proposed increase of fees by the university.
“The SAPS as an arm of national government is now using extreme force to resist the students standing up against that same government’s education failures,” he said.
“I will be arranging an urgent meeting between our DASO Constituency Leader, Yusuf Cassim MP, and the provincial police authorities to ascertain who approved and carried out these heavy-handed tactics,” he said.
Derrick Spies, News24
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