Friday 9 December 2016

South African police use stun grenades to disperse thousands of students protesting tuition fees rise

Peroshni Govender

Published 23/10/2015 | 13:54

African police fired stun grenades and used water cannon on Friday to douse fires lit by students protesting Credit: Siphiwe Sibeko (REUTERS)
African police fired stun grenades and used water cannon on Friday to douse fires lit by students protesting Credit: Siphiwe Sibeko (REUTERS)

South African police fired stun grenades at students as thousands turned out to protest against government plans to raise tuition fees.

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In what many have called the first signs of the post-apartheid 'Born Free' generation flexing its muscle, thousands of South African university students gathered at the country’s main government complex ahead of an address by President Jacob Zuma.

A few pushed through a cordon before being pushed back by anti-riot police who used stun grenades and water canons disperse the crowds.

The protest caps a week of angry demonstrations over the cost of university education - prohibitive for many blacks - amid frustration at the inequalities that persist two decades after the end of white-minority rule.

But low growth since a 2009 recession has forced the government to keep a lid on spending, meaning that it has little spare cash to offer students in the form of enhanced subsidies.

"He's not taking us seriously, we've been here for a while," one student said on television.

Students from Johannesburg and Wits universities arrive at the African National Congress ruling party headquarters to protest against university fee hikes Credit: Mujahid Safodien (AFP)
Students from Johannesburg and Wits universities arrive at the African National Congress ruling party headquarters to protest against university fee hikes Credit: Mujahid Safodien (AFP)
The rolling student protests have become a focus for youth frustration in South Africa Credit: Mujahid Safodien (AFP)
Students shout slogans outside the ANC headquarters in Johannesburg, during a demonstration against university fee hikes Credit: Mujahid Safodien (AFP)
University activism has been increasing in South Africa as students vent their anger over the limited racial transformation in education since racist white-minority rule ended with Nelson Mandela's election in 1994 Credit: Mujahid Safodien (AFP)
A member of the South African Police Services stands guard close to burning barricades set up by protesting students Credit: Rodger Boscher (AFP)
A protesting university student clashes with a riot policeman outside Parliament in Cape Town, South Africa Credit: Nardus Engelbrecht (AP)
African police fired stun grenades and used water cannon on Friday to douse fires lit by students protesting Credit: Siphiwe Sibeko (REUTERS)
South African police say 30 students were arrested during a protest against university tuition hikes outside parliament in Cape Town Credit: Themba Hadebe (AP)
A student gestures in front of a giant poster of the late former South African president Nelson Mandela, during a protest over planned increases in tuition fees at the headquarters of South Africa's ruling African National Congress in Johannesburg Credit: Siphiwe Sibeko (REUTERS)
Protesters chant slogans as they burn portaloos during a protest over planned increases in tuition fees outside the Union building in Pretoria Credit: Siphiwe Sibeko (REUTERS)
A student holds a placard during their protest against university tuition hikes outside the ruling ANC party Credit: Themba Hadebe (AP)
Students sits outside the African National Congress headquarters. Police said the protest turned violent when students forced their way through a parliament gate and approached the building Credit: Themba Hadebe (AP)

The students danced, singing: "We the students dream of free education. We are not afraid of the police, our fight will win."

Mr Zuma was meeting in private with student leaders and university management, the presidency said in a statement.

"The meeting will discuss the current countrywide impasse between universities and students regarding the proposed annual fee increments," the presidency said.

Tuition fees vary across universities but can run as high as 60,000 rand (€4,000) per year for medical students in a country where white households still earn six times more than black households, according to official figures.

Students from Johannesburg and Wits universities arrive at the African National Congress ruling party headquarters to protest against university fee hikes Credit: Mujahid Safodien (AFP)
Students from Johannesburg and Wits universities arrive at the African National Congress ruling party headquarters to protest against university fee hikes Credit: Mujahid Safodien (AFP)

Protests - some of them violent - have broken out at universities across the country this week, taking the ruling African National Congress (ANC) by surprise.

On Wednesday, riot police threw stun grenades at students who stormed the parliament precinct in Cape Town as Finance Minister Nhlanhla Nene delivered his interim budget in which he painted a gloomy outlook for Africa's most advanced economy.

A member of the South African Police Services stands guard close to burning barricades set up by protesting students Credit: Rodger Boscher (AFP)
A member of the South African Police Services stands guard close to burning barricades set up by protesting students Credit: Rodger Boscher (AFP)

"Education mustn't be free but it must be affordable," Makungu Sithole, 21, an engineering student at Tshwane University of Technology (TUT) said at the Union buildings grounds on Friday.

"The ANC just talks, we support the ANC but we just don't support the current cabinet. Today is Zuma's day to shine. The children are making a plea, you should listen."

Students shout slogans outside the ANC headquarters in Johannesburg, during a demonstration against university fee hikes Credit: Mujahid Safodien (AFP)
Students shout slogans outside the ANC headquarters in Johannesburg, during a demonstration against university fee hikes Credit: Mujahid Safodien (AFP)

South Africa has a million students in further education, a figure that the ANC wants to increase to 1.5 million by 2030.

Universities say they need higher fees to keep up standards and they urged the government to find the extra money. The government, which subsidises universities, said it could not afford the free education that students are demanding.

Thousands of students from Wits and the University of Johannesburg marched through South Africa's commercial capital on Thursday to Luthuli House, the headquarters of the ANC, where they handed a list of demands to officials.

On Friday, Africa's top-rated university, the University of Cape Town, said it had postponed the start of final exams due from October.

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