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Student Protests in South Africa Regarding University Tuition Hikes

October 22, 2015 | News

Ever since Witwatersrand University in South Africa announced it would raise its tuition fees by 11.5% and its registration fees by 6%, violent student protests have rocked the country. The protests began on13 October, shortly after the University made the announcement. Due to protests on school grounds and students blocking the entrances, lectures were cancelled. The University of Cape Town also announced that it would raise its tuition fees by 10.3%

On 17 October, Witwatersrand University announced that it would suspend the hike of 11.5% in tuition fees for 2016, but this did not calm protests. Protests continued to grow and on 19 October were held at Rhodes University and the University of Cape Town, two other prestigious South African universities. A meeting that was supposed to be held on 19 October between the student protesters and the university council of Witwatersrand was cancelled after students stormed and occupied the institution’s Senate House building.

According to a statement released by the university, the students had violated a signed agreement by storming the building. A resolution “can only happen under safe conditions that are conducive to the academic project,” the statement said.

The protests have been violent, many requiring police implication. At Rhodes University, students burned piles of tires and attacked the police with sticks. The police rebuked and fired stun grenades into the crowds. Even more violent protests took to the streets where students burned and flipped cars. The demonstrations culminated into a protest that attempted to force their way into the parliament, where the Finance Minister, Nhlanhla Nene, was holding a speech on the state budget. Police pushed back students using their shields and threw tear gas and stun grenades into the crowd of demonstrators. 29 people were arrested and are due to appear in court in February. A government offer to cap the increases at 6% for all universities did little to calm the demonstrations.

Things are not set to calm down any time soon; protests are being held nation-wide and 10 institutions have been forced to close or cancel lectures. Many say that this is the biggest student protest since the 1994 protests were held against the apartheid. For many students, this is less a matter of finances than discrimination; there is still a wide divide between the income of white and black families. For many black students, the increase in fees will mean that they will no longer be able to attend university. Already, according to a South African economist, the 7,400$ cost of university per year excludes 95% of the South African population. A student leader at Johannesburg’s University, Mcebo Freedom Dlamini, made this statement to a local newspaper: “To our parents, we’re sorry that we’re doing this, but we had to do it because our mothers cannot afford to bring us here next year.” Many white students have joined in with the protests to support their colleagues and have formed human shields from the police to prevent brutality.

The increase in fees is not random though; South Africa is experiencing financial difficulties at the moment. The cost to maintain university structures and university teacher salaries are rising. All the while, the rand, the South African currency, has decreased in value by 22% against the dollar. During a statement made the 22 October, President Zuma said he will meet university managers and student leaders the 23rd to discuss the tuition hikes.

The statement also said “Nobody disagrees with the message that students from poor households are facing financial difficulties and possible exclusion,” “It is important that we work together to find solutions.”

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