/ 26 October 2015

Wits stays shut as #FeesMustFall protests continue

Student protests at university fees.
Student protests at university fees.

Protests against tuition increases started at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg almost two weeks ago and spread to other campuses nationwide.

A spokesperson for Wits confirmed on Sunday that the university would remain shut, with exams and lectures being cancelled. The school’s senate will meet on Monday to decide when to resume classes, with many students already missing exam dates.

“Our students have decided to continue with their protest,” the university said in a statement.

“We are disappointed at their decision, as we feel that it will put in jeopardy the academic futures of many students who will not be able to pass or graduate. This will only further entrench and deepen the inequalities in our society,” it said.

Students still wanted a range of issues addressed, including the outsourcing of staff at Wits.

The angry demonstrations over the cost of university education – prohibitive for many poorer black students – highlight frustration at the inequalities that persist two decades after the end of white-minority rule.

The campaign appeared to reach a climax on Friday, when police fired rubber bullets and tear gas at stone-throwing students on the grounds of the Union Buildings, the seat of government in Pretoria.

Some demonstrators tried to force their way towards the Union Buildings in the capital Pretoria, tearing down a security fence, setting fire to portable toilets and hurling bricks at police lines in chaotic scenes.

Zuma had been due to address the crowd after meeting with student leaders and university officials inside the buildings, but instead he read a short statement at a televised press briefing.

“We agreed that there will be a zero increase of university fees in 2016,” he said.

“In the long term, there is a package of issues that was raised at the meeting that needs to be followed up – these include free education, institutional autonomy [and] racism.”

The rand currency touched a 3-1/2 week low against the dollar on Friday as the protests – and questions around how the fee freeze may impact fragile government finances – dented investor sentiment to Africa’s most advanced economy. – Reuters