“Police on Wits campuses have traumatised us” – Student
A student of the University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, South Africa has spoken about the trauma of having to deal with police on campus.
Wits University students have been protesting for free education since 19 September after the Minister of Higher Education, Blade Nzimande announced that universities across South Africa could raise their fees by up to 8 per cent.
A heavy police presence has been placed on campuses to secure the safety of students as well as infrastructure. Zahrah Essop a second-year BA student at Wits University, questions this heavy police presence and writes a letter detailing her thoughts on the matter.
Learning how cruel people can be and actually witnessing it firsthand tend to be two vastly different experiences. At first, one is shocked and then you forget about it. The second memory stays with you indefinitely. It creeps in when you can’t fall asleep at night because you can still hear the stun grenades that were fired at you, ringing in your ears. You flinch every time you hear a nyala driving past because you can still feel the burn from the irritants contained in the water cannon on your skin. You are more afraid of the police than of the criminals they are meant to protect you from because you have never seen a criminal fire a bullet at a student – with a broad smile on their face. Countless Wits students, indeed, countless South African students, have now had these experiences.
We have spent the last few weeks in fear, knowing full well that the police presence at our universities will harm us with their rubber bullets, teargas, stun grenades and water cannons, for little to no reason. We have faced brutality, but far worse, we have faced apathy from the external community, who see their own children as being deserving of this treatment. We have been described as ‘violent’, ‘unreasonable’ and ‘destructive’. We have entered an institution that is nominally a safe place for learning, but actually a police-infested war-zone.
The brutality we have faced from the police force – sent allegedly to protect us – has led to them forcing their way into students’ res rooms, shooting at anyone within range and discriminating against those of colour, is now called ‘protection’ and has been nightmarish, to say the least.
Let our voices be heard.