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News > World

South African Universities Close Following Violent Protests

  • Students take part in a protest at University of the Witwatersrand to demand free tertiary, Johannesburg, South Africa, Sept. 20, 2016.

    Students take part in a protest at University of the Witwatersrand to demand free tertiary, Johannesburg, South Africa, Sept. 20, 2016. | Photo: Reuters

Published 21 September 2016

Rising cost of education puts tuition out-of-reach for Black majority, which remains impoverished a generation after the end of apartheid. 

At least three South African universities suspended classes Wednesday following three weeks of student protests that turned violent Tuesday, according to news reports.

The clashes underscore the failure of the ruling African National Congress to respond to the needs of a restive Black majority a generation after the country was freed from white colonial-settler rule.

South African Youth Protests Hearkens Back to Apartheid Era

In the latest round of protests this week, students across the country are demanding free tertiary education, following a September 19 announcement by the Minister of Higher Education, Blade Nzimande that the 2017 tuition fee increase should be capped at 8 percent, or 2 percentage points above South Africa's current inflation rate of six percent.

Since voters of all races abolished apartheid in 1994, the ANC's neoliberal reforms have depleted the economy, in general – and the Black working class, specifically – of buying power, leaving students unable to afford the rising price of education.

Classes were cancelled for the remainder of the week at Johannesburg's University of the Witwatersrand – known as "Wits" – while academic activities were also suspended Wednesday at the University of Pretoria's main campus, and the University of Cape Town.

Students, Black and white, formed the heart of the anti-apartheid movement, and the ANC's catalog of broken promises has re-ignited the country's youth. Students hurled rocks at the administration building on the Wits campus and were locked out by private security guards who retaliated by throwing rocks back at the students.

Students take part in a protest at University of the Witwatersrand. | Photo: Reuters

Police fired at the protesting crowds, and after a law library at South Africa's University of KwaZulu-Natal was torched, 31 students were arrested Tuesday. They were released Wednesday.

An injured student is attended to by her schoolmates after clashes with security at University of the Witwatersrand on Tuesday. | Photo: Reuters

Students Shut Down South Africa Universities over Tuition Hikes

The ANC suffered crushing blows in local elections last month, losing control of traditional strongholds in the Eastern Cape region – which includes the home of the late, iconic President Nelson Mandela – as well as Pretoria, the country's seat of power, while just barely managing to hold on to the municipality of Johannesburg. Even more stunning is the fact that the main challenger is the political party that is directly descended from the National Party which created the apartheid system in 1948.

Last year’s successful #FeesMustFall movement forced President Jacob Zuma to rule out raising tuition fees in 2016. Many of the campuses where these protests took place, and where they are continuing this week, were white-only institutions under apartheid rule, which has only invigorated the movement to point out persistent inequities.

Private security guards clash with protesting students. | Photo: Reuters

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