Police chief can't rule out fatalities in students protests

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FILE: Acting National Police Commissioner Khomotso Phahlane is seen during a media conference in Pretoria on 26 July 2016.

PRETORIA – Acting national police chief, Lieutenant General Khomotso Phahlane on Monday, refused to give a commitment that there will be no further fatalities as the #FeesMustFall protest intensified at university campuses across South Africa.

READ: Police commissioner rules out state of emergency as protests intensify

“I am not going to put my neck on the block and say there will never be a loss of life because you see how irresponsible people [protesters] are. The situation continues to escalate so it is a situation we must all manage. The SA Police Service [SAPS] will do their best to de-escalate the situation,” Phahlane told reporters in Pretoria.

 

Phahlane said the students’ protests have been hijacked by political agendas.

“Part of the agenda of those who have infiltrated is to drive us to a point where someone is killed by police so that they could prove a point. As the SAPS we are going to work hard to ensure that we protect lives and property. It is not our wish to see lives being lost but on the contrary, we would like to see lives protected as well as property,” said Phahlane.

READ: LIVE BLOG: Strong police presence at universities

However, Phahlane said, at this stage there was no need to declare a state of emergency.

“We cannot see ourselves in a state of emergency now. When the need arises, there are processes to be activated. We believe that we are too far from a state of emergency. This is an issue we are grappling with in confined spaces – the institutions of learning,” said Phahlane.

“These are supposed to be places where people go and learn, are developed to be better leaders of tomorrow [but] unfortunately it seems as if we’re breeding a crop of leaders that this country is going to regret.”

Earlier, Phahlane lamented the levels of violence and vandalism accompanying the ongoing #FeesMustFall protests at South African universities.

“The Dangerous Weapons Act of 2013 and the Regulations of Gatherings Act of 1993 provide for the rights of citizens to gather peacefully, but to do so without bearing dangerous weapons, inflicting harm on others or damaging property or infrastructure,” he told the media briefing after violence spilled over from the University of the Witwatersrand campus to the streets of Johannesburg.

“In order to ensure peace and stability and to protect the life and property of people in South Africa, the SA Police Service will enforce these acts decisively,” he said.

READ: Student protests: Between a rock and a hard place

Phahlane called on student leaders, protesting students and all interested parties to act with the utmost restraint and calm.

“We also request academics to be true academics and not make inflammatory remarks that could tend to exacerbate the situation. We thank the students at the universities which have maintained a calm presence during the course of today,” said Phahlane.

“The SAPS members on duty today and over the past weeks are commended on their discipline and commitment. Theirs is not an easy task. They have been called upon to protect lives and property in the middle of a dispute that is not of their making.”

The police chief said criminality, intimidation and attacks on police officers have taken place at some universities, leaving the police officers with no option but to respond with “a degree of force” in order to stabilise the situation.