NPA: Insufficient evidence to prosecute students arrested during Wits protests

Seven students were arrested for public violence during rolling protests over tertiary education fees at Wits.

Police were dressed in riot gear and armed with guns with rubber bullets and shields during the Asimanali protest at Wits. Picture: @JoburgMPD/Twitter.

JOHANNESBURG - The National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) on Thursday night said it would not be prosecuting students arrested during the Wits #Asinamali protests that have been raging since the beginning of March.

The NPA said the reason was because there was insufficient evidence to be able to prosecute the seven students arrested.

Protests came to a head on Monday and Tuesday at the University of Witwatersrand's Braamfontein campuses under heavy police presence. Police were dressed in riot gear and were armed with guns and shields.

Students demonstrated against the financial exclusion of students who could not register due to unpaid funds, with them saying that COVID-19 affected incomes in families that resulted in non-payment.

“We received three dockets. In one of the dockets there were five suspects who were arrested for public violence. These suspects were released with a warning on Wednesday,” said NPA spokesperson, Phindi Louw Mjonondwane.

Mjonondwane said two other dockets each had one suspect. Both were released on Wednesday night after paying R1,000 bail. "We have sent the dockets back to the South African Police Service for further investigation.".

On Wednesday, police used rubber bullets to break up the protest. One person, 34-year-old father of four, Mthokozisi Ntumba, was shot at point blank range by police, according to eyewitnesses. He died on the scene.

He was alleged to have been walking from a nearby clinic when he approached police about shooting at protesters.

The Independent Police Investigative Directorate (Ipid) is investigating the circumstances around his death, and no arrests have yet been made. Police Minister Bheki Cele visited his family, saying that he could not explain the shooting. He also said someone "had gone crazy", resulting Ntumba's death.

Wits vice-chanellor Zeblon Vilakazi on Thursday called for calm after the shooting, while university lecturers joined students in solidarity. Students from the University of Cape Town also began protesting in solidarity with Wits students.

Vilakazi said he made several attempts to speak to students about their demands. On Thursday, the students marched to the African National Congress's (ANC) headquarters, Luthuli House, as well as the Constitutional Court, to hand over a list of demands.

Wits's student representative council (SRC) also gave Higher Education Minister Blade Nzimande a list of 15 demands before they begin a national shutdown on Monday next week.

They are also preparing to take legal action to force government to deliver on its many promises of financial support over the years.

SRC president Mpendulo Mfeka said their lawyers were working on an application for direct access to the Constitutional Court to demand that government be forced to provide free and decolonised education.

He said it was likely that this application would be launched next week.

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