South African Universities Call in Police to Quell Protests

  • Students break windows, throw faeces in university buildings
  • Lectures resume at some of the nation’s 26 universities

South Africa’s University of Cape Town called in national police to quell protests at its campuses on Monday as students continue to fight for free tertiary education across the country.

Students broke windows and doors, intimidated other students and threw human excrement in university buildings in Cape Town, while protesters from the University of the Witwatersrand, known as Wits, blocked roads with rocks and burning tires in Johannesburg, according to police and university officials.

“We face a level of protest this morning which we are not able to contain with private security officers alone,” the University of Cape Town, the country’s top-ranked college, said in a statement on its website. “The South African Police Service is on campus in an attempt to manage the situation.”

Weeks of violent protests at universities across the country are threatening the completion of the current academic year, jeopardizing graduation for many and the enrollment of the next first-year class for 2017. While the state has promised to subsidize fees for poorer and middle-income families, it says it can’t afford and won’t consider free education for all as wealthy households must pay for tuition.

Demonstrations spread to the streets of Johannesburg last week as Wits students set a bus on fire and pelted rocks at security personnel, with police using stun grenades, tear gas and water cannons to disperse crowds. One of the most prominent student leaders appeared in court on Monday on charges related to the protests.

Stretched Budgets

“Several universities, including UCT, have been declared a level-three security situation by the national commissioner of SAPS, which, in effect, means that the Public Order Police are in command of the situation,” the Cape Town university said.

Lectures resumed at some colleges on Monday, including the Cape Peninsula University of Technology, the University of the Free State and the Tshwane University of Technology in the capital, Pretoria, after demonstrations last week.

Finances at many of South Africa’s 26 universities are stretched by the government’s decision to limit tuition costs this year after student riots in 2015, with some saying they may not be able to continue operating. Africa’s most-industrialized economy is already contending with a skills shortage and a 27 percent unemployment rate.

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