PRETORIA, South Africa (AP) — Thousands of South African university students protested tuition increases on Friday outside the country’s main government complex, posing a challenge to the ruling African National Congress party.
The students, some chanting and singing, gathered in throngs on a large lawn at the foot of the Union Buildings in South Africa’s administrative capital, Pretoria, on Friday. It was the largest demonstration in more than a week of protests against tuition increases planned for next year, galvanizing one of the biggest student movements since South Africa rejected white minority rule in 1994.
Many students accuse the government of not doing enough to support university students and their families who are struggling to pay bills.
President Jacob Zuma was scheduled to meet student leaders and university managers inside the Union Buildings on Friday. He and other leaders of the ruling party have said they are sympathetic to student concerns and welcome their protests, as long as they are peaceful.
A police helicopter flew overhead as some students pushed and pulled on a fence preventing them from getting closer to the government offices.
“Stop corruption, fund students,” read one student placard. Another said: “Dear Mr. President: How do you sleep while the rest of us cry?”
Costs vary, but annual tuition for undergraduate students in South Africa runs to several thousand dollars at some universities. That amount, combined with textbook and accommodation costs, is a burden for many poor students in a country with a wide gulf between the affluent and those with limited means.
The protests began last week at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, which later dropped plans for a 10.5 percent tuition hike in 2016 and has suspended classes until at least next week because of the disruption.
Many universities are in exam season, and there have been reports of protesters going into lecture halls and forcing some students to stop taking exams. On Wednesday, a student protest outside parliament in Cape Town turned violent and 30 demonstrators were arrested.
CHRISTOPHER TORCHIA, Associated Press
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