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Campus protests erupt in S.Africa over student fees

South African police fired stun grenades in Johannesburg on Tuesday as protesting students blockaded campus entrances and disrupted classes to demand free education after the government announced fee increases.

Campus unrest has hit many universities over the past year, with demonstrations and outbreaks of violence as students protested against higher fees forcing poorer, often black, students out of education.

Tuesday’s protests came a day after the government said that next year’s fee hikes would be capped at eight percent, with the unrest affecting campuses in Johannesburg, Cape Town and elsewhere.

Although the government said it would cover the increase for students from families earning less than 600,000 rand ($43,000/39,000 euros) a year, student activists are demanding free education for all.

“About 200 students in roving groups are moving from campus-to-campus disrupting classes… and intimidating students,” Wits University in Johannesburg said in a statement.

“We are deploying security and the police. Students will be arrested if they do not comply with police orders.”

TV footage showed stun grenades being fired to clear a major road in Johannesburg, while local media said that 31 people who had been arrested for blocking a campus entrance, had been released with a warning.

– ‘Disturbing images’ –

“I’m very disturbed about this because… as much as students have the right to protest, there is no basis for this protest here,” Higher Education Minister Blade Nzimande told 702 radio.

“I don’t like to see the sight of police in our universities. It’s not good.

“It reminds one of the terrible apartheid period.”

Last year, students — many of them so-called “born frees” who grew up after apartheid — staged a series of major protests which forced the government to abandon planned fee hikes for 2016.

Throughout this year, there has been sporadic unrest which has seen accommodation buildings and libraries set alight, and in May, an auditorium at Johannesburg University was firebombed.

The issue of education fees has ignited widespread frustration over a lack of opportunities for young people, worsened by a weakening economy and high unemployment.

The University of Free State closed its Bloemfontein campus Tuesday, while classes and lectures were abandoned at the University of Cape Town.