The firing of tear gas and stun grenades at students protesting at Parliament during Finance Minister Nhlanhla Nene’s mid-term budget speech shocked South Africans on social media.
Political analyst Angelo Fick referred to the clash, with students having come to Parliament to protest against high fees at universities, as “the hour of our national shame”, while others called what could be a watershed moment in the history of post-apartheid South Africa a “disgrace”.
Students in their thousands had taken buses and marched to the Parliamentary precinct having earlier protested on their respective campuses.
Initially numbering a few hundred, their numbers swelled to thousands. While this happened, police appeared to not take seriously the challenge posed by the large number students surrounding the precinct.
The students eventually managed to force their way into the precinct through two gates, reaching the doors of Parliament.
Police later used stun grenades and tear gas to disperse them and gradually forced them back in chaotic scenes broadcast live on television.
While this was happening, Nene ploughed through his speech, after the EFF attempted to disrupt the sitting. The EFF members were eventually ejected from the chamber.
Later, following the conclusion of Nene’s speech, MPs were advised to exit the chamber at its side entrances, as students were still on the property.
Before the session was adjourned, DA leader Mmusi Maimane called on both Higher Education Minister Blade Nzimande and President Jacob Zuma to address the students. Students outside were chanting: “We want Blade, we want Blade.”
Neither man responded, and the sitting was adjourned.
The protests flared up after students at the University of the Witwatersrand last week protested against a 10.5% fee increase for the 2016 academic year.
This sparked protests on campuses across South Africa, including the universities of Stellenbosch, Rhodes in Grahamstown, Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University (NMMU) in Port Elizabeth, the University of Pretoria, the University of Fort Hare, the Tshwane University of Technology, University of Limpopo and the University of KwaZulu-Natal.
The University of the Free State closed all three of its campuses on Wednesday, after varsity management and the student representative council met on Tuesday to discuss next year’s fees.
At NMMU, police fired rubber bullets at protesting students throwing stones on Wednesday, according to police spokesperson Brigadier Marinda Mills.
She said no one was arrested or injured.
At the University of Limpopo, protesters forced students to abandon their exams, pushing aside private security guards.