South African police on Tuesday lashed out at methods of protests adopted by university students like the naked protest, saying that some of them were violating law-enforcement officers and were “indecent”.
Acting national police commissioner, Lieutenant General Khomotso Phahlane argued that the police were lenient on three female protesters, who stripped topless baring their breasts in a bid to reach ceasefire, because they had engaged in “public indecency”.
“When those students took off their clothes was that not public indecency? Is public indecency not an offence? It is within our mandate. Where are their parents? We must call them to order,” Phahlane said.
Phahlane said he had visited various campuses in the province on Tuesday to see the aftermath for himself.
He called on protesting students to refrain from attacking law enforcement officers while saying that its members would also exercise maximum restraint and engage in meaningful dialogue.
This comes after intense running battles between University of Witswatersrand (Wits) students and police on Tuesday at the main campus in Braamfontein which resulted in at least two students being arrested.
Police had to fire stun grenades and rubber bullets to disperse protesting students who disrupted the scheduled re-opening of the university on Tuesday morning, after weeks of protests for free education made it impossible for academic activities to continue.
“I have directed that, with immediate effect, senior managers in the province are to take personal control of police actions relating to the students protests at the universities under the banner of #FeesMustFall,” Phahlane said.
“It was also decided that deputy national commissioner, Lieutenant General Gary Kruser, will oversee all planning and management processes relating to the present spate of student protest action in the province.”
Phahlane was addressing a media briefing on Tuesday evening at the SAPS provincial headquarters in Johannesburg.
Phahlane, who is a Public Administration Master’s student at the University of Pretoria, said he questioned some methods applied by students when protesting, saying he himself would not engage violently even when he did not agree with some university policies.
He said the police’ ultimate goal was the “de-escalation of violence while upholding the right to peaceful protest” .
“SAPS management calls on students and student leaders to consider their actions and to refrain from making inflammatory remarks. We need to, and the SAPS is prepared to, engage in meaningful dialogue to reach a common objective,” Phahlane said.
“The SAPS outright rejects utterances made and broadcast today claiming that we are a “blood-thirsty” organisation “seeking another Marikana”. Nothing could be further from the truth.”
Phahlane also said police resources were being over-stretched from covering other responsibilities such as preventing, detecting and combating crime as student protests were spreading countrywide.
He said there were 17 students who got arrested on Tuesday at Wits and at University of Johannesburg on Tuesday for public violence and for violating a court order which prohibited them from protesting.
Wits students stoned and upended a police vehicle that was parked on campus, and also threw stones at police officers who were trying to disperse them.
Phahlane said a police officer had her leg broken during the skirmishes.
“A female constable was transported to hospital today and our Employee Health and Wellness practitioners were called out as it is traumatic to be confronted by stone-throwing individuals insulting you assaulting you day-in and day-out.”
– African News Agency (ANA)