South African students riot against universities

There is once again turmoil on the campuses of South Africa. Last year, 10.000 students took to the streets in protest against plans to raise tuition. Now that the plan is going through, a wave of protests and riots broke out across South Africa, and Witwatersrand University is the epicenter of the chaos. Univers spoke about the situation with South African student Nastassja Wessels.

Yesterday the South African government decided that universities are allowed to raise their tuition fees with 8% in 2017. The students are demanding free education and are rejecting the government’s decision. The demonstrators say it’s discriminating against the poorer black students. Many of them can’t even pay the fees now. Last year the government froze tuition fees after the biggest protests since the end of apartheid in 1994.

Out of hand

At Witwatersrand University the situation got out of hand. During the protests 31 students had been arrested. Nyiko Shikwambane saw it happen and talked about it to NOS News: “The situation went south when the university closed the main entrance for protesting students. They tried to get inside when all of a sudden security was there, barring the entrance.” The students started to throw rocks at the guards, who were protected by helmets and shields. Then it got worse, she says: “The guards started to throw rocks back at the students, but also used flash grenades. The students were unprotected and some got hurt.”

Images by News24 show the struggle. The students are later shown with their hands in the air surrendering. The police were seen conferring with the students, trying to de-escalate the situation.

Volatile situation

Univers spoke with South African Nastassja Wessels, a Master’s student at Tilburg University studying Cultural Studies. “The situation is volatile and quite disturbing”, she says. “But not all universities are in turmoil. Some are having peaceful negotiations with the Student Representative Councils of their institutions.”

She says that there are speculations that this all is a political ploy. “The elections are next year.” The universities aren’t financially supported by the government anymore, leaving it up to the universities whether they increase the fees or not. Many believe that this has been done so that the blame can’t be given to president Zuma.

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