Johannesburg – As I watched the lifeless body of Mthokozisi Ntumba being carried away from the scene of a student protest in Braamfontein, Joburg, I struggled to hold back my tears.
What made his death even more painful is the fact that he was neither a student nor part of the protest. Not that it would have been justifiable to kill any student protesting for what our freedom and ANC promised – free education.
My memory, like many South Africans, was flooded with images of those who were brutality killed by the police for protesting for a better life we were promised at the dawn of democracy in 1994.
I remembered the 34 Marikana workers who were callously mowed down for asking for a minimum wage in August 2012. I also thought of Andries Tatane, who was shot and killed by police during a service delivery protest in Ficksburg in 2011.
Ntumba’s death brings back some longstanding issues on our democratic discourse; police brutality and political expediency and unfulfilled promises. That thousands of students must demand free education that the ANC government promised in its founding manifesto and resolved on at its 2017 elective conference in Nasrec is disheartening.
It is a well-known fact that the only opportunity for millions of black youths to get out of a life of poverty, squalor, substance abuse and unemployment is through education. We also need these young people to be in economic activity to have a skilled workforce to build a globally competitive economy.
Ntumba was not supposed to die had government fulfilled the promise contained in the 1955 Freedom Charter, that “education shall be free, compulsory, universal and equal for all children; higher education and technical training shall be opened to all by means of state allowances and scholarships awarded on the basis of merit”.
Equally, police brutality was not supposed to claim one more life of a protester 26 years into democracy.
What is gravely concerning is that the police handle protests involving black people with the kind of heavy handedness that is not seen in protests involving our white counterparts. When right-wing elements attacked a court and a police vehicle in Senekal, Free State – a direct attack on the authority of the state – we did not see the brutality we witnessed in Marikana and Braamfontein.
Neither did we witness the harshness of police when white parents attacked EFF members protesting outside Brackenfell High School in Cape Town last year.
I am not in any way advocating for attacks on white people when protesting – all I am raising is the different treatments of protesters. Our police ought not to brutalise anyone for exercising a constitutionally enshrined right of peaceful protesting.
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