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South African University Students Clash With Police Over Tuition Hikes

Oct 22, 2015

South African police have used stun grenades and tear gas to disperse hundreds of students who marched on the parliament precinct in Cape Town on Wednesday to decry a planned tuition hike at more than a dozen universities — the latest in a string of protests touted as the nation's largest student demonstration since the end of apartheid.

Since Oct. 13, following the announcement that the country's universities hoped to increase fees by as much as 11.5%, South Africa's university students have taken to their campuses and to the streets, at times violently, Reuters reports. The assemblies, which collectively go by the hashtag moniker #FeesMustFall, have effectively shut down several of the country's top institutions of higher education.

“What we wanted is the public to see and hear our cries," Mcebo Freedom Dlamini, a student leader at Johannesburg's University of the Witwatersrand, told the local Mail & Guardian last week. "To our parents, we’re sorry that we’re doing this, but we had to do it because our mothers cannot afford to bring us here next year.”

After more than a week of localized unrest, demonstrators assembled on Wednesday at the Houses of Parliament in Cape Town, where President Jacob Zuma — who has not commented on the protests — was attending a speech by Minister of Finance Nhlanhla Nene concerning the country's interim budget. The situation escalated when students decided to storm the parliament compound, spurring the police to intervene.

"We were pushed back by police with force. The stun grenade was shot right next to my ear," Motheo Lengoasa, a student at University of Cape Town, told Reuters.

As protesters and authorities clashed outside, Nene delivered a grim state of the union for Africa's most developed and second largest economy. As economic growth languishes and the rand, South Africa's currency, suffers, public funding for universities has fallen, forcing the institutions to hike student fees to compensate. Quartz noted that state higher education funding in South Africa is markedly lower than in other emerging markets, such as Russia and Saudi Arabia.

At present, a university education in South Africa costs around the equivalent of $7,400 a year, which, by one economist's calculations, 95% of all South Africans cannot afford. For many students, the policy is one of discrimination, given the income disparity between the country's white and black populations. Though most of the students gathering in the streets this week are too young to remember South Africa under apartheid, they have summoned motifs of the era to denounce both the tuition hike and the official response to the demonstrations.

"This looks like 1976 all over again," Lengoasa said, alluding to a June 1976 protest against a curriculum shift that introduced Afrikaans — the "language of the oppressor," as Nobel laureate Archbishop Desmond Tutu called it — as the medium of instruction at South Africa's schools. During that demonstration, police killed at least 69 students.

The ongoing movement is the second major student demonstration in South Africa this year. In March, students at the University of Cape Town earned global attention as they rallied to demand the removal of a campus statute of the Cecil Rhodes, the controversial late British colonialist.

79 Days That Shook Hong Kong

Pro-democracy demonstrators are sprayed with pepper spray during clashes with police officers during a rally near the Hong Kong government headquarters on Sept. 28, 2014.
Pro-democracy demonstrators are sprayed with pepper spray during clashes with police officers during a rally near the Hong Kong government headquarters on Sept. 28, 2014.Xaume Olleros—AFP/Getty Images
Pro-democracy demonstrators are sprayed with pepper spray during clashes with police officers during a rally near the Hong Kong government headquarters on Sept. 28, 2014.
A pro-democracy demonstrator gestures after police fired tear gas towards protesters near the Hong Kong government headquarters on Sept. 28, 2014.
Riot police use tear gas against protesters after thousands of people blocked a main road at the financial central district in Hong Kong, Sept. 28, 2014.
Policemen rest following pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong on Sept. 29, 2014.
A protester raises his arms as police officers try to disperse the crowd near the government headquarters in Hong Kong, Sept. 29, 2014.
Protesters gather in the streets outside the Hong Kong Government Complex on Sept. 29, 2014 in Hong Kong.
Pro-democracy demonstrators hold up their mobile phones during a protest near the Hong Kong government headquarters on Sept. 29, 2014.
A protester sleeps on the streets outside the Hong Kong Government Complex at sunrise on Sept. 30, 2014 in Hong Kong.
Protesters take part in a rally on a street outside of Hong Kong Government Complex on Sept. 30, 2014 in Hong Kong.
Joshua Wong, leader of the student movement, delivers a speech as protesters block the main street to the financial Central district, outside the government headquarters building in Hong Kong Oct.1, 2014.
Protesters react as Joshua Wong (not pictured), leader of the student movement, speaks to the crowd outside the government headquarters building in Hong Kong, Oct.1, 2014.
A protester holding an umbrella stands on the street close to the Hong Kong Government Complex on Oct.1, 2014 in Hong Kong.
A local resident breaks through police lines and attempts to reach the pro-democracy tent on Oct. 3, 2014 in Mong Kok, Hong Kong.
Policemen try to get a man to let go of a fence guarded by pro-democracy demonstrators in an occupied area of Hong Kong on Oct. 3, 2014.
A pro-democracy protester sleeps on a concrete road divider on a street outside the Hong Kong Government Complex on Oct. 5, 2014 in Hong Kong.
The statue "Umbrella Man" by the Hong Kong artist known as Milk, is set up at a pro-democracy protest site next to the central government offices in Hong Kong on Oct. 5, 2014.
A pro-democracy protester uses bamboo to strengthen a barricade blocking a major road in Hong Kong on Oct. 13, 2014.
Demonstrators walk past notes hanging on a wall outside the Central Government Offices in the Admiralty business district in Hong Kong on Oct. 17, 2014.
Tents set up by pro-democracy protesters are seen in an occupied area outside the government headquarters in Hong Kong's Admiralty district, Nov. 12, 2014.
A young Hong Kong couple who did not give their names wear gas masks as they pose for a wedding photographer prior to their marriage next to the tents used by pro-deocracy demonstrators at the Admiralty protest site on Nov. 14, 2014 in Hong Kong.
Police face pro-democracy protesters on Nov. 19, 2014 outside the central government offices in the Admiralty district of Hong Kong.
Pro-democracy activists join arms as they face off with police outside the Legislative Council building on Nov. 19, 2014 in Hong Kong.
Police officers disperse pro-democracy protesters outside the Legislative Council building after clashes with pro-democracy activists on Nov. 19, 2014 in Hong Kong.
Pro-democracy protesters climb up a wall as police officers disperse them outside the Legislative Council building after clashes with pro-democracy activists on Nov. 19, 2014 in Hong Kong.
Pro-democracy activists sleep outside the Legislative Council building after protesters clashed with police on Nov. 19, 2014 in Hong Kong.
Police arrest a pro-democracy protester on Lung Wo Road outside Hong Kong's Government complex on Nov. 30, 2014 in Hong Kong.
A young student studies in a makeshift classroom set up on a main road at a major pro-democracy protest site in the Admiralty district of Hong Kong on Dec. 1, 2014.
A demonstrator is taken away by policemen, at an area previously blocked by pro-democracy supporters, outside the government headquarters in Hong Kong, Dec. 11, 2014.
Pro-democracy protesters remove signs placed up during the past two months of protests from the area around the protest camp but leave intact the notice "We are dreamers" in the Admiralty in Hong Kong on Dec. 11, 2014.
Hong Kong police dismantle the remains of the pro-democracy protest camp in the Admiralty district of Hong Kong on Dec. 11, 2014.
Pro-democracy demonstrators are sprayed with pepper spray during clashes with police officers during a rally near the Ho
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Xaume Olleros—AFP/Getty Images
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