Police clash with university students demanding free education
South African students protesting for free education disrupted lectures at one of the country's leading universities yesterday, clashing with police who tried to disperse crowds with tear gas, rubber bullets and stun grenades.
The violence at the University of the Witwatersrand, or Wits, in Johannesburg erupted despite an appeal from the vice-chancellor, Adam Habib. He had asked students and staff to "take back our campus" from what he called a minority of students who would rather protest than study.
"Stop shooting at us," shouted a young woman, one of several female protesters who stripped to the waist and accosted police in helmets and body armour.
Similar unrest has occurred since last month at some other financially struggling South African universities, forcing a number, including Wits, to close. The university sought to reopen Tuesday the main campus was disrupted, but classes proceeded on other Wits campuses.
The government said it will cover fee increases of poor university students in 2017, but protesters rejected the concession. Bigger protests in 2015 forced the government to announce the suspension of university fee increases this year.
The demand for free education stems partly from wider dissatisfaction over economic inequities in South Africa, and the belief that universities and other institutions were not adequately transformed to benefit the black majority after the end of white minority rule in 1994.
A SCARE TACTIC
President Jacob Zuma says the protests have caused about $44 million in property damage and threaten to sabotage the country's higher education system.
"Wits is Ours," read a banner held up by protesters who accused police of confronting them first. They pulled up paving stones and broke them into pieces, hurling the debris at officers. Protesters also smashed the windows of a police car.
"We're all angry," said Nkululeko Tselane, a law student who had a large bump on the back of his head, the result of what he said was a clubbing by university guards when violence broke out Tuesday.
Tselane described university warnings that the protests might force the cancellation of the academic year as a "scare tactic" and vowed that demonstrations would continue.