Socialist Worker

South African student revolt grows amid repression from cops

South African authorities are trying to criminalise a wave of protests on campuses, writes Charlie Kimber

Issue No. 2527

Protest at Wits University in Johannesburg last week

Protest at Wits University in Johannesburg last week (Pic: Dinesh Balliah)

A student involved in the “fees must fall” protests in South Africa died after he was hit by a car last Thursday. Benjamin Lesedi Phehla, a student at Tshwane University of Technology, was taking part in a road block after a march.

The driver who crashed into protesters is being investigated for culpable homicide.

Enraged that the protests against a fee rise of up to 10.5 percent have not gone away, the authorities are trying to criminalise the protesters.

Police shot student leader Shaeera Kalla in the back with rubber bullets last week at Wits University in Johannesburg.

Kalla said from hospital, “At the time, we all had our hands up in the air and some of us were negotiating with police not to shoot at the group.

“I was shot 13 times in the back, at a very close range in a targeted attack on students.

She described how, while in “extreme pain” in the hospital’s emergency room, she “was greeted by three policemen who demanded I provide them with a statement”.

The heroic protests need broader support to succeed.

Students in the Keep Left socialist organisation issued a statement last week.

It said, “We stand firmly with the demands of the fees must fall movement and the strategy to shut down our universities.

“Students have been a lightning rod for the working class since the late 1960s and much more frequently since the turn of the century.

“Austerity measures have undermined access for black and working class students.

“These lessons of history are not lost on our ruling class, which fears that student struggles may encourage a wider uprising.

“The neoliberal offensive was never limited to education. The state and the government are determined to push through the harshest austerity programme with the forthcoming mid-term budget.

“They need to fend off any attempts to blunt their offensive. The new student movement presents a clear and present danger to this strategy.

“This is why they are intent on crudely cutting off the heads of our new student movement.

“We appeal to the student militants to keep the fight going—but if the fight is to survive, we have to extend it. We have to call on organised workers and trade unions to join us in open civil disobedience.

“As students our power is a potent spark. But it can be extinguished if we don’t campaign for real solidarity among those who have the power to bring the economy, and the entire rotten system, to its knees.”

The government is facing a deep political crisis. President Jacob Zuma and the ruling African National Congress are reeling after a series of election defeats and scandals.

The Numsa metalworkers’ union said this week, “Our students are being shot, killed and injured because they are simply demanding the right to free education!”

It is time for united action.

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