Classes at the University of the Witwatersrand stayed in session Monday, despite weekend disruptions and ongoing protests at other South African campuses that continued to escalate into violent confrontation.
The Wits campus was comparatively quiet, although students took to the streets in Parktown. Academic officials said they were looking at ways to create more access to computer labs and other campus resources for students who need them while tight restrictions remain in place. Today’s developments followed weekend vandalism that saw fires set and windows broken in at least four campus buildings.
Students did clash with police at the University of KwaZulu-Natal campus at Westville, where rocks and bottles were thrown at authorities who answered with tear gas, rubber bullets and stun grenades, local media reported. A UKZN statement said there were reports of unrest at the Pietermaritzburg campus as well, following a weekend that saw two fires set at the Howard College campus location.
Hundreds of South Africans have been arrested in recent weeks as protests and campus closures spread to University of Pretoria, University of Cape Town and Durban University of Technology, among others.
The student protests followed South African officials’ September announcement of a 2017 tuition increase, with the commitment to cap any hikes at 8 percent. The decision reignited student demands for a free education, with fresh protests akin to those that emerged last year and earlier in the fall.
The #feesmustfall campaign was first sparked at Tshwane University of Technology (TUT) in 2015, when students with outstanding fees were prevented from registering. It quickly spread, with activists initially emphasizing students’ academic concerns. The movement voices those concerns within the wider context of South Africa’s difficult economy, persistent racial inequality, and the demand for social justice.
Similar protests have occurred in neighboring Namibia, where students are struggling to pay off debt and face tuition hikes as well. Students at Namibia University of Science and Technology who planned to sit for their October-November finals needed to pay outstanding fees by the end of September. As of October 6, however, there were more than 13,000 students who owed money to the university.
Image: University of the Witwatersrand