S.Africa vows to end violent student protests
The South African government vowed Thursday to end violent student protests against higher tuition fees, after days of clashes on campuses and disrupted classes across the country.
“The destruction of property and the disruption of the academic programme does not address legitimate concerns of students,” Higher Education Minister Blade Nzimande said in statement.
“I will not wait on the sidelines for any further damage to property, injuries to students or ultimately loss of life to occur before acting against violent campuses.”
The statement said “the violence has to stop”, adding that “fringe and rogue elements (were) exploiting the situation through acts of hooliganism”.
Police fought running battles with protesters in Johannesburg on Wednesday, with students blockading roads, hurling rocks and damaging property at Wits University in the city centre.
Universities in Pretoria, Cape Town and Bloemfontein suspended lectures, while violence erupted on Thursday at the University of KwaZulu-Natal in Pietermaritzburg, where students set fire to a campus entrance.
Riot police have regularly used stun grenades and rubber bullets to disperse protesters, who are demanding free university education.
Unrest has hit many South African universities over the past year, as students protest against fee increases that they say force poorer, often black, pupils out of education.
On Monday, the government announced that universities would set their own fee increases but that next year’s hikes would be capped at eight percent.
The government said it would cover the increase for students from families earning less than 600,000 rand ($43,000) a year.
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.