S.African police and students clash at government HQ
South African riot police fired stun grenades Friday at students protesting against fee hikes as some demonstrators tried to force their way towards government headquarters in Pretoria.
Thousands of students gathered near the Union Buildings, where President Jacob Zuma had been due to address the crowds after he met student leaders and university officials following several days of growing protests.
Protesters tore down sections of a security fence, set fire to portable toilets and hurled bricks at police lines in chaotic scenes.
The Union Buildings are the official seat of the South African government and where Nelson Mandela was inaugurated as president when white-minority apartheid rule fell in 1994.
“The government thinks we are playing, they think it’s because we want to run away from school,” Kgotsi Genge, a 22-year-old student at the University of Pretoria, told AFP at the protest in the capital.
“But we will keep fighting. South Africa needs to invest more in education. This movement is because we are being oppressed.”
Universities around the country have been closed over the last week as students have protested against the proposed fee rises, which they say will mean poorer black youths are unable to attend university.
– ‘Supposed to be peaceful’ –
The issue of education fees has ignited widespread frustration over a lack of opportunities for young people since the end of apartheid, worsened by a weakening economy and high unemployment.
“This was supposed to be peaceful,” Jessica Littlewood, a 20-year-old criminology student at the University of Pretoria, told AFP.
“I hope that this violent protest ends and that Zuma addresses us with a solution. This movement is by the students, for the students.”
Earlier this week, hundreds of students stormed through the gates outside parliament in Cape Town as police struggled to protect the national assembly.
Protests have also erupted daily in Cape Town, Johannesburg, University of Fort Hare in Eastern Cape province and several other provincial cities.
Fees were set to rise up to 10 percent next year, with a general Bachelor of Arts degree at the University of Cape Town (UCT) currently costing 46,000 rand ($3,400).
“A proposed increase in university fees has angered students, given the financial difficulties faced by students from poor households,” Zuma’s office said in a statement earlier.
“The president will use the meeting to gain a first-hand account from students.”
It said that universities set their fees independently, in an apparent attempt to steer criticism away from the African National Congress (ANC) government that has ruled since 1994.
University activism has been increasing this year as students — many of them so-called “born frees” who did not experience the struggle against apartheid — vent their anger over continuing racial inequality in South Africa.
Protests over education have a strong resonance in the country, where the Soweto uprisings in 1976 against Afrikaans-language lessons were brutally suppressed by police.
Earlier this year, students at UCT led a high-profile and successful campaign for the removal of a statue of British imperialist Cecil John Rhodes from the campus.