South African police fired stun grenades and arrested 31 students in clashes at Johannesburg’s University of the Witwatersrand on Tuesday, as countrywide protests demanding free tertiary education entered a third week.
Nompendulo Mkatshwa, outgoing president of the student representative council, said police had fired stun grenades at students gathered near the university, known as “Wits”, to call for planned increases in university fees to be scrapped.
Police spokesman Lungelo Dlamini said the arrested students “were blocking the entrance of the university in contravention of the court order” and were being held at a nearby station.
Demonstrations this year and in 2015 over the cost of university education — prohibitive for many black students — have highlighted frustration at the inequalities that persist more than two decades after the 1994 end of white-minority rule.
The current protests were triggered by a government recommendation that 2017 university tuition fee increases be capped at eight percent. The cap is higher than South Africa’s current inflation rate of six percent.
“Students are not happy with what the Department of Higher Education and Training said, so they are fighting for equal education,” Mkatshwa said.
Weeks of violent demonstrations last year over university costs, forced President Jacob Zuma to rule out fee raises for 2016 but university authorities have warned that another freeze for this year could damage their academic programmes.
Earlier this month, 32 students were arrested after arsonists torched a law library at South Africa’s University of KwaZulu-Natal following days of protests by students over grievances including the cost of tuition.