Wits protest

Image via: Razeen Gutta

Wits protest: ‘Why do they treat students as enemies going to war?’

A Wits student describes first-hand the events that unfolded during protests at the university in Johannesburg on Wednesday, leaving one man dead.

Wits protest

Image via: Razeen Gutta

From atop the Wits Art Museum (WAM) building on Jorissen Street in Braamfontein, we watched the half-hour-long spectacle begin to unfold; and while it may only have lasted that long, the memories will last a lifetime.

As Journalism Honours Students based in the Wits Vuvuzela Newsroom, the chants and screams prompted us to rush downstairs. Soon enough we were on the ground, amidst injury to our colleagues and a fatality nobody could ever have seen coming. This is our story.

At approximately 9:50 on Wednesday 10 March, burning tyres on the corner of Jorissen and Bertha streets kicked off the protest, just outside the WAM building. Peaceful protests with regard to financial exclusion were expected for this week, and that was what everybody saw as our class rushed to the scene.

The protesters believe that the university should allow them to register before continuing with the academic programme after many of them were impacted financially by the pandemic in the past year.


According to student reporter Jessica Bunyard, however, it only took a few minutes for the South African Police Service to begin dispersing the crowd without warning, as the clock struck 10:00.

An initial stun grenade resulted in a flurry amongst the general public, and according to Jessica “the cops were unnecessarily aggressive despite the students fleeing”. “Heavy-handed arrests took place in front of our eyes and rubber bullets began to fly across the unarmed students”, Jessica added.

Image via: Razeen Gutta

Wits Student Mandisa Ntuli gave an account of the shooting of her classmate Nondumiso Lehutso, host of the NDL Show.

Lehutso was covering the protest with nothing but her cellphone in hand, and according to Ntuli “the police asked the students to run towards campus and away from the scene, before brutally shooting them down with rubber bullets”.

Ntuli was one of two students who got injured and said, upon receiving treatment in the WAM, that she got hit twice despite following instructions from the SAPS.

Image via: Razeen Gutta


At 10:30, when it all seemed to calm down and the smoke had dissipated, we had received news that a by-stander had lost his life. A 35-year old male, with no connection to the protest, was shot from close range.

The question asked in the media was whether it was a civilian or a student that had lost his life – begging the question: “Are students not civilians, too?”, asked by English Honours student Zainab Gaffoor.

“The protests have been peaceful for over a week until the police brutality changed that. Why do they treat students as enemies, as people going to war?” Gaffoor added.

Despite the university implementing online learning, the protests are set to continue on Thursday.