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Notes From South Africa's #NationalShutDown

What started as a student-led protest last Wednesday at Wits University in Johannesburg becomes a nationwide shutdown today in South Africa.

A protestor at Parliament in Cape Town on Wednesday (Photo: David East)


On Wednesday of last week, students at the University of Witwatersrand (Wits) in Johannesburg began protesting in response to a proposed 10.5 percent hike in tuition fees. On Monday, the protests spread to other universities around South Africa, including the University of Cape Town. That night, the South African Student Congress (Sasco) called for “a nationwide mass action against fee increments until their demands are met” to take place on Wednesday.

Today, the #FeesMustFall demonstrations became a #NationalShutDown in South Africa. In Cape Town, students took the protests to Parliament.

Andrei Damane, a jazz musician and political science student at UCT, was at the protests in Cape Town Wednesday afternoon to protest the crushing burden of the fee increases.

“I felt as if I didn’t at least voice myself I’d be letting people down and myself as well,” he tells Okayafrica in a phone interview.

Damane was in the group of protesters who made it peacefully onto the parliament grounds before being disbursed with police stun grenades.

Andrei Damane's photo of the protestor whose skin was peeling off in Cape Town on Wednesday. (Courtesy of Andrei Damane) 

“We entered with our arms raised to show we weren’t violent,” says Damane. After they were dispersed, he joined a group trying to exit the grounds but was stopped at the gate which had been closed to prevent more protesters from entering. The group of roughly 300, he says, sat nonviolently at the gates waiting to be allowed out.

They were attacked anyways with police launching stun grenades directly into the crowd. The closest was “two arms length away from me”, says Damane, “as if someone next to me was getting shot.”

As the shots were fired, the gates were opened causing a stampede of protesters trying to exit the parliament grounds. It was immediately after that when Damane snapped the picture of the protestor whose skin had been peeling off that, as of now, has been shared a thousand times on Twitter.

“I don’t know whether the injury is related to the stun grenade or from being tripped” says Damane. As of 6:30 pm Cape Town time, Damane had left the protest but he is getting updates from friends on Whatsaap.

Here are some more reactions from South Africa's #NationalShutdown today on social media.

 

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