Protesting South African students block re-opening of university
Student protesters on Friday threatened to block next week’s planned resumption of lectures at a prestigious South African university if fees are not scrapped immediately, officials and students said.
Students at the Johannesburg-based University of Witwatersrand (Wits), where classes have been suspended for nearly three weeks, said they would block the re-opening of campuses Monday, failing free education.
“We are fighting for free quality decolonised education. If we cannot come to an agreement with management we have no choice but to continue the shut down,” Anzio Jacobs, one of the students’ representatives, told reporters.
Wits rector Adam Habib said in response that the demands for immediate free tuition would cause “a complete shutdown” and “the sacrifice of the 2016 academic year.”
“Essentially what they are saying is if there is no free education, there should be no education at all.”
“I think it is incredibly provocative, incredibly dangerous,” Habib told a news conference.
Authorities at the university, which enrolled 37,000 students this year, will meet at the weekend to decide on the next step.
The university, along with many campuses across South Africa, has been closed during protests over tuition fees, with violent clashes regularly erupting between students, police and private security guards.
Campuses nationwide including the University of Cape Town, the University of KwaZulu-Natal and the University of Pretoria have all been hit by violence, arson and closures in recent weeks.
The wave of protests was triggered by a government announcement that universities would set their own fee increases but that next year’s hikes should not exceed eight percent.
Student protesters say the fee increases force poorer, often black, pupils out of education.
Last year, students — many of them so-called “born frees” who grew up after apartheid — staged a series of huge demonstrations which forced the government to abandon planned fee hikes for 2016.