South African police clashed with student protesters demanding free education Monday at Johannesburg's University of the Witwatersrand, or "Wits," which had just reopened after demonstrations forced it to close last week.
In a surreal scene that was reminiscent of South African's apartheid era, demonstrators hurled rocks at shield-wielding private security guards while police fired rubber bullets and teargas to disperse the crowd assembled on the campus in downtown Johannesburg.
Protesting students took to the streets of Braamfontein district, where the university is located, police said. Television footage showed several people trying to topple a bus in downtown Johannesburg and later set it on fire.
Escalating violence has marked weeks of nationwide protests against the spiraling costs of university education, which is simply too expensive for much of South Africa's Black majority, which has still not reaped many tangible economic benefits from the end of the white settler minority government that was abolished 22 years ago.
The protests came after President Jacob Zuma's government said it would continue subsidizing university costs for the poorest students but could not afford free education for all.
Acting police Commissioner Lieutenant General Khomotso Phahlane said officers fired tear gas in retaliation at students who showed up on campus brandishing sticks and other crude weapons.
Phahlane said that there were also scuffles between students and police at the University of the Free State in Bloemfontein, just south of Johannesburg.
A Wits university spokeswoman earlier said the university had reopened, but a subsequent statement said lectures had been disrupted by large groups of protesters.
"We urge students and staff to return to classes this week, even if disruptions occur," it said.
"The protests are continuing because students' demands have not been met. There hasn't been sufficient engagement from the university," a member of the Wits Student Representative Council, Palomino Jama, told Reuters.
Universities suspended classes last week after clashes in which police fired stun grenades, rubber bullets and tear gas at students at Wits.
Some students are demanding all universities be shut down until the government provides free education.
Statistics South Africa data shows that university fees have soared by 80 percent since 2008, leading to the initial batch of protests last year that forced Zuma to scrap proposed increases for 2016.
But university administrators say that fees represent their main source of income and another price freeze next year is simply untenable and would affect their efforts to maintain academic standards.
The government, grappling with a budget deficit of nearly 4 percent of GDP, has capped 2017 fee increases for next year at 8 percent, but says education subsidies should not come at the expense of other sectors such as health and housing.