President Jacob Zuma has ordered state security agencies, including the police, to take a zero-tolerance “uncompromising” approach towards protesting students that are turning to violence in their fight for free education.
According to the City Press, citing minutes of a security meeting held by the president this week, government is convinced that students are being influenced by political agents seeking regime change.
The president reportedly stated that there was an urgent need to bring the violent protests under control before the end of the academic year, and a security plan needed to be introduced.
According to Universities South Africa, costs to universities as a result of violent protests – including vandalism, arson and other destruction – has shot past R600 million.
The security directive, seen by the City Press, called for:
- A multi-provincial police task force to be established to deal with the protests more effectively;
- Evidence to be gathered linking specific individuals to specific instances of violence for ease of prosecution;
- Maximum sentences for those involved in violence;
- A ‘comprehensive communication strategy’ – specifically to take on “propaganda” on social media.
Students have been protesting for free education for the past three weeks – a continuation of similar protest action which took place around the same time in 2015.
The protests were sparked by a move by Higher Education minister Blade Nzimande, allowing for universities to hike fees in 2017 by up to 8%. As part of the process, government would cover any increases for poor students on NSFAS, and those part of the “missing middle”.
Students have outright rejected the proposal, and demand free education.
Protests have turned violent as students regularly clash with police, who have been criticised for being heavy-handed and militant in their approach.
However it has become increasingly difficult to sort out the peaceful protesters from those who challenge police and university security with rocks, bottles and other threatening objects.
According to State Security Minister David Mahlobo, taking a hard-line approach towards violent protesters was necessary, as “if we do not do that, this kind of lawlessness is going to continue.”
“These individuals (violent protesters) are very few, they cannot continue to intimidate our people,” he said.
You can read the full story in the City Press for 2 October 2016