THOUSANDS of South African students marched to the Union Buildings in the South African capital Pretoria, where they were met by riot police and volleys of stun grenades.
While the police clashed with thousands of students, the student leadership had a meeting with President Zuma, where they protested at the plans to raise University tuition fees by between 10% and 12%. The demonstrations had closed most of the country’s top universities.
On Thursday, 29 people were charged with public violence amid the biggest student protests to hit the country since apartheid ended in 1994. They have been released from custody, and the case postponed to February.
The demonstrations began last week at Johannesburg’s prestigious University of the Witwatersrand, and have since spread to at least 10 universities, forcing the closure of many of them. The mainly black students say they cannot afford fee increases and have rejected a government offer to cap increases at 6%, down from the 10% to 12% proposed by the management of universities.
The protests are revolutionary and show complete disillusionment with the governing African National Congress (ANC), which took power after minority rule ended in 1994, over high levels of poverty, unemployment and corruption in government.
• Meanwhile chanting ‘Fees must fall!’ and ‘Amandla!’ (Power! in Zulu and Xhosa) hundreds of South African students living and studying in the UK marched from SOAS university to protest outside the South African embassy opposite Trafalgar Square yesterday.
They carried placards saying ‘Fees must fall’, ‘Education is National’, ‘Higher education is a right’, ‘End police brutality’, ‘No to state terror’ and ‘Remember Marikana’. 800 South Africans and alumni of South African universities living abroad from 200 institutions have signed a statement in support of the protests.
One of the organisers, Gilad Isaacs, told News Line at SOAS: ‘We as students studying outside South Africa are gathering to show our support for the student protests in South Africa. These have flared up demanding access to quality education for all. This is the most significant student mobilisation since 1976 and represents a failure of the post-apartheid regime to achieve meaningful economic transformation.
‘It represents a frustration by poorer South Africans to access public education that has managed to transcend race and class lines, at least to a certain extent. The protests, therefore represent a coming together of young people to assert their right to education and shape their own future.
‘One of the demands of the students is insourcing of all outsourced university support staff. This shows a deep class consciousness and a broadening of student demands to include the support of the most vulnerable workers.’
On the march, another student, Sisa M’twama, said: ‘You know Higher Education Minister Blade Nzimande is a member of the South African Communist Party! I want to get rid of fees. We don’t want them decreased or increased, we want them abolished! Not only must fees fall, the ANC government is going to fall too.’