Some S.African universities to re-open despite protests

A man throws a stone during a mass protest of the Fees Must Fall movement at the University of Witwatersrand in Johannesburg on Oct 4, 2016.
A man throws a stone during a mass protest of the Fees Must Fall movement at the University of Witwatersrand in Johannesburg on Oct 4, 2016.PHOTO: AFP

JOHANNESBURG (AFP) - Several South African universities plan to resume classes this week after crippling protests by students demanding free higher education which sparked violent clashes with police, officials said at the weekend.

The prestigious Wits University in Johannesburg, where lectures have been suspended for three weeks, will start functioning again Monday (Oct 10) despite students' warnings they will block any such attempt.

The university said the goal of securing "free, quality higher education" could be "done at the same time as finishing the academic year." On Friday, student protesters at Wits threatened they would continue the shut down until their demand for "free quality decolonised education" was met.

"No student should see a year's worth of work come to naught, along with the financial sacrifices that they, and their families have had to make," Wits University said in a statement.

It added that students would be allowed to protest but only in "specific identified areas." Any person who intimidates students and staff or is seen "carrying rocks, stones, weapons," could be suspended.

Officials from Tshwane University of Technology in Pretoria announced that classes would resume on Wednesday, while the University of Free State in Bloemfontein said it would open on Monday.

However, the University of Cape Town - where the student movement has been particularly active - said it will remain shuttered.

Pretoria University will also stay closed, but staff and students will meet on Monday to seek an end to the crisis.

The universities have been closed for up three weeks during protests over tuition fees, with violent clashes regularly erupting between students, police and private security guards.

South African police fired rubber bullets, stun grenades and teargas at student protesters in Johannesburg on October 4 as authorities tried to re-open Wits.

As police opened fire and protesters threw rocks, television footage showed several minor injuries to students and police.

The wave of protests was triggered by a government announcement that universities would set their own fee increases but that next year's hikes should not exceed eight per cent.

Student protesters say the fee increases force poorer, often black, pupils out of education.

Last year, students - many of them so-called "born frees" who grew up after apartheid - staged a series of huge demonstrations which forced the government to abandon planned fee hikes for 2016.