25 February 2016

South Africa: Student Protests End in Violence and Flames

Photo: @Bvvtile via Daily Vox
Buildings were torched at the North West University Mafikeng campus after protests against the inauguration of an interim-SRC earlier in the day resulted in clashes with police and private security.

Student protests in South Africa have escalated again, ending in violent clashes with police and a university being set on fire. Now black students are going online to protest police brutality and racial discrimination.

South Africa has once again become the scene of violent clashes between students and police. After last year's #FeesMustFall demonstrations, which escalated for more than a week and triggered dramatic images of police responding with tear gas and flash grenades, protesting students have now clashed with police again, this time in the northern city of Mahikeng.

There, protesters burned down several buildings of the North-West University (NWU) on Wednesday, 24 February, forcing administrators to close the campus indefinitely.

The students had apparently gathered to protest the university's decision last month to dissolve a council of student representatives and install a new council that wasn't elected by the students themselves. Violence erupted after the protesters were dispersed by private security with rubber bullets and tear gas.

The protesting students reacted by pelting security personnel with stones and setting fire to a security vehicle, university spokesman Koos Degenaar told the Associated Press. Large police vehicles then rolled onto the campus to restore order, injuring several protesters, as reports surfaced on social media.

The students retaliated by setting fire to campus property.

Documenting police brutality on social media

Amidst the violence, many students took to social media to post images and videos of injured protesters after clashes with police, using the hashtag #unarmedstudents to document the use of what they deemed aggressive force by the police.

They claim not only tear gas and rubber bullets were used against them, but also live ammunition.

So far, these claims have been denied by the university.

Frustrated by the denial, students are continuing to post photos of ammunition they say they found on campus.

Students say they want the media to report on police brutality and oppression of black people rather than, as they fear might happen, focusing solely on the acts of vandalism.

The older generation, those who lived through apartheid, has started speaking out on social media in support of the students.

Racial inequality in the rainbow nation?

Wednesday's clashes seem to reignite South Africa's ongoing debate about the racial divide within the rainbow nation.

Many are taking to social media to remind people that, only a few decades ago, black citizens who protested for their rights were routinely gunned down in the streets by apartheid police.

They are demanding a faster transformation away from the culture of white domination, saying the core of the issue is that there are still too many racist remnants of the past. Some are also demanding the abolition of education in the Afrikaans language, which was forced on black students during apartheid.

Others say the government must step in to calm things down, and encourage students and the university to work together rather than point fingers at each other and clash violently.

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