Amid the chaos at NMMU this week a number of youngsters have emerged as heroes as they offered emergency medical care and counseling services.
Groups of non-protesting students from two of the university’s departments braved rubber bullets, stun grenades, eye-stinging teargas and even fires to assist injured students and staff members.
Students from the health department at NMMU have set up shop at the Bambanani HR department conference room, where they provide a safe space for students and staff members who would like to get away from the turmoil.
Some students, dressed in white T-shirts with a red cross, roam the south and north campuses with five-litre water bottles and supplies in hand.
They are skilled firstaiders. Their efforts came in handy on Tuesday morning when a woman believed to be a staff member collapsed after an encounter with teargas along University Way.
Final-year registered counseling student Onelihle Makedama, 22, said one of the most challenging things about their offering was being caught in the crossfire.
“We decided to help out after we realised that there would be a protest and it had not been the best of weeks.
“There came a point when we had to lie on our stomachs and crawl our way to safety because the police were shooting over our heads and the students were throwing rocks at the police,” Makedama said.
Later on Tuesday, a bush fire broke out along University Way.
Fortunately, the department of emergency medical care students and their lecturer, Nico Louw, were at the right place at the right time.
Head of department Louw said responding to the fire was second nature to the group of about 60 students.
“The fire on Tuesday broke out adjacent to our classrooms while we were having a lecture. The wind was also blowing the fire in our direction and the natural thing was to help.”
“We are trained to do this, so we just went into our storeroom and the students got into their protective gear and just helped to contain the fire as much as we could,” Louw said Third-year emergency care student Thomas Willis, 24, of Summerstrand, said the experience was exciting and insightful.
“I have been exposed to fires in my neighbourhood and have helped, but the circumstances were obviously different as there were rubber bullets being fired.”
“I personally was not scared of the situation, but knowing I could be shot by a rubber bullet was rather scary,”Willis said.
Since the first day of protests, the students have been spotted amidst the chaotic scenes and have been lending a helping hand where needed.
Carmen le Roux, 23, who is doing a master’s in counseling psychology, said: “We just felt safe spaces were important, especially when people did not necessarily feel safe.”
“We wanted to create an environment where people could come and express how they felt – even if it was just sitting in silence or using the bathroom – they have that option with this initiative.”