Cape Town descended into chaos on Wednesday as protesting students demanding free education wreaked havoc in the city centre.
Over a thousand students from universities across the country gathered outside Parliament, where Minister for Finance Pravin Gordhan tabled his medium-term budget report yesterday.
Gordhan could be heard saying “we want the violence to stop” inside the National Assembly as chaos erupted outside the parliamentary gates.
The sound of stun grenades reverberated through the city, with a police helicopter flying overhead as students clashed with police in running battles in the streets.
Members of the public order policing unit used water cannons and stun grenades to disperse small groups of protesting students.
Protesters burnt rubbish bins, pelted cops and police vehicles with stones, and also looted and damaged several stores.
There was panic among bus and train users as Golden Arrow and Metrorail temporarily suspended services as protesters rampaged on Cape Town station and bus terminus.
At least one bus was targeted and had its windows thrown out. It’s believed no passengers were on board at the time.
Protesters came to hand over a memorandum to Gordhan, who emerged from parly, surrounded by bodyguards and police.
Several protesters held placards calling for free education and there was also a coffin made out of cardboard with a picture of Minister for Higher Education, Blade Nzimande, on it.
Students read out their memorandum to Gordhan and demanded he stay, despite exlaining he needed to return to the national assembly.
“Hey, you must listen wena and your friend Blade must come out after you because we want to talk to him too,” shouted protesters.
Gordhan signed the memorandum before making a hasty retreat.
#FeesMustFall leaders then addressed the crowds and reiterated their call for free education, for arrested students to be released and charges to be dropped.
“We are not in a TV drama and we will not keep writing memorandums like they are love letters that get ignored by the people in power,” said CPUT student leader, Lukhanyo Vanqa.
“We are not going to stop our fight for free decolonised education… if UCT does not provide free education to the poor, then it must burn. We are not violent; we are not inciting violence, but rather it is out of love for our people that we are doing this.
“Because it is only through the shattering sound of a window breaking that makes you listen to us.”
When Nzimande failed to emerge, protesters burnt their symbolic coffin, shouting: “We are cremating Blade.”
And when they threw the burning box at cops, all hell broke loose.
Cops fired stun grenades at the large group who quickly scattered.
Students soon retaliated by launching rocks at police who fired rubber bullets back at the crowds.
Along Plein Street, protesters regrouped, and piles of rubbish and municipal dustbins were set alight.
The protesters then split up into smaller groups, stoning private vehicles, buses and cop vans parked at the Cape Town Central Police Station.
Golden Arrow’s Bronwyn Dyke-Beyer says services were suspended for nearly two hours after buses were stoned at the terminus.
The buses were hastily taken to the Woodstock depot, but services resumed by 5pm.
Train services resumed around the same time, after protesters earlier stormed the station, where a McDonald’s restaurant was vandalised.
Other shops quickly closed their doors as the riot spread.
By Wednesday afternoon, national police spokesperson, Brigadier Selepe Mashadi, said officers were still monitoring the situation and several arrests were made.