South African police fired tear gas in clashes with students at the University of KwaZulu-Natal on Thursday and arsonists torched a building at another campus overnight, police said on Thursday, as protests over tuition costs spread.
The protests erupted at a Johannesburg university three days ago after the government announced a rise of up to 8 percent in 2017 tuition fees – well above the inflation rate.
Demonstrations over the cost of university education, prohibitive for many black students, have highlighted frustration at the inequalities more than two decades after the end of white-minority rule.
Television footage showed students hurling stones at police at the University of KwaZulu-Natal in the east of the country. Police retaliated with tear gas to disperse the protesters as the two sides engaged in running battles across campus.
“The students attempted to set a building on fire and were pelting motorists and police with rocks,” police spokesman for the KwaZulu-Natal province Thulani Zwane said.
Earlier this month, 32 students were arrested after a law library at the university was torched during protests.
Police said they were investigating an arson attack at the University of Fort Hare in the neighbouring Eastern Cape province, after a building housing university security guards was torched.
“Three rooms in the building were burnt down,” Marinda Mills, police spokeswoman for the province said.
A number of universities including, in Pretoria and Cape Town, have suspended classes over the nationwide demonstrations.
There was a heavy police presence on Thursday at Johannesburg’s University of the Witwatersrand, known as “Wits”, which has been the epicentre of student protests against higher fees. Two students arrested there were due to appear in court on Thursday, police said.
Violent protests last year forced President Jacob Zuma to freeze fees for 2016, but universities said that a repeat of that would have an impact on the standard of academic programmes.