Student Protests Over Fees Shut South African Universities

  • Campus protests are against fee increases for 2017 year
  • Students injured as police fire rubber bullets, stun grenades

South African universities suspended classes and closed campuses as police clashed with students protesting tuition fee increases and demanding free education.

The University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, where police fired tear gas at stone-throwing students on Tuesday, halted all activities for the rest of the week, it said in a statement. The University of Cape Town suspended classes, lectures and tutorials on Tuesday and Wednesday, while the University of the Free State closed its campuses until Friday. The University of Pretoria said Wednesday its main campus is closed. The Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University, in the coastal city of Port Elizabeth, has shut for two days.

Students from the University of the Witwatersrand protest

Photographer: Mujahid Safodien/AFP via Getty Images

Student demonstrations erupted on Monday after Higher Education Minister Blade Nzimande said the government will allow universities to determine fee changes for the 2017 academic year, while recommending that increases be capped at 8 percent. The government is subsidizing fees for poorer households, meaning any rises won’t apply to them. President Jacob Zuma last year put fee increases for 2016 on hold following weeks of student protests, and in January established a committee to evaluate the viability of free education.

Students were injured after police fired rubber bullets, stun grenades and tear gas at Wits, as the Johannesburg university is known, the Student Representative Council said in postings on Twitter on Wednesday. ER24 was treating several students injured in the protest, the medical emergency care provider said in a separate post.

Nzimande’s decision on fees was correct and the government should close universities for a prolonged period until the student demonstrations end, Gwede Mantashe, the secretary-general of the ruling African National Congress, told reporters in Cape Town on Wednesday.

“If I was the minister of Higher Education, I would close the universities for six months and then keep the residences closed for a further six months until the students realize the importance of higher education,” he said. “You must first deepen the crisis before solving it.”

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