Students from the Witwatersrand (Wits) university in Johannesburg, South Africa, are continuing to protest against tuition fees despite President Jacob Zuma announcing there will be a 0% increase for 2016.
Protests started earlier in October after the government said it intended to increase fees by between 10% and 12%. Thousands of students took to the streets in several towns calling for free education and arguing that increased fees would prevent poor black youths from accessing education. Hundreds of people also took to social media to voice their dissent under the hashtags #FeesMustFall and #NationalShutDown.
Zuma announced on national TV a 0% increase for 2016 after meeting with student leaders and professors at the Union Buildings in Pretoria, where dozens of protesters clashed with police after setting up fires near the the building. Demonstrators also hurled rocks at journalists and the police, who retaliated with stun grenades to disperse protesters and deployed barbed wire.
However, students at Wits rejected Zuma’s announcement and announced they would carry on with the protest demanding free education. Students, some of whom are angry at Zuma’s decision to deliver a speech on TV rather than addressing the crowd protesting outside the Union Buildings, are also demanding the indefinite postponement of their exams, scheduled for next week.
The university remained closed on Monday (26 October) and a spokesperson told Reuters it is disappointed with the students’ decision. “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,” the statement read.
The university’s senate met on Monday to decide when to resume lectures. However, it is believed the meeting was adjourned after some students disrupted it.
The student protest was the biggest since the end of apartheid in 1994. Some said the demonstrations echoed protests which occurred in Soweto, Johannesburg, in 1976, when hundreds of unarmed students were shot dead by South African police during a protest against the Afrikaans Medium Decree.
Black high school students took to the streets to protest against this new decree, which introduced Afrikaans as a compulsory language for education. According to the decree, maths and social studies were to be taught in Afrikaans, with general science and practical subjects in English, while indigenous languages would only be used for religion and music. The exact number of victims is unknown, with estimates ranging from 176 to 700.