South Africa’s Wits university reopens in face of student protests

Around 200 students had gathered early on Monday in front of the Great Hall, one of the approved protest zones.

By: Reuters | Johannesburg | Published:October 10, 2016 1:21 pm
Johannesburg university, free education protest, free education protest South Africa, South africa, Africa protest, education protest in Africa, Cape town University, Johannesburg university, latest news, latest world news Academic staff and church leaders protest in support of students demanding free tertiary education at Johannesburg’s University of the Witwatersrand, South Africa, October 7, 2016. (Source: REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko)

South Africa’s University of the Witwatersand (Wits) said it had reopened classes on Monday after clashes last week between police and student protesters demanding free education.

“Classes have reopened and so far there are no disruptions to any classes,” Wits spokeswoman Shirona Patel said. She said students who wanted to protest could do so in designated areas of the campus. Around 200 students had gathered early on Monday in front of the Great Hall, one of the approved protest zones.

There was a heavy police presence on the campus and police had a water canon at the ready, a Reuters’ witness said. Demonstrations over the cost of university education, which is prohibitive for many black students, have highlighted frustration at enduring inequalities more than two decades after the end of apartheid.

Nationwide protests erupted last week while universities were on a study recess, with students demanding all universities be shut down until the government provides free education. Wits in Johannesburg saw the worst clashes on Tuesday, with students overturning a police car and throwing stones, while police fired tear gas and rubber bullets.

Several other universities were scheduled to reopen on Monday after an extended recess but University of Cape Town said in a statement it would remain closed. The government, grappling with a budget deficit of nearly 4 percent of GDP, has capped 2017 fee increases for next year at 8 percent, but warns that education subsidies should not come at the expense of other sectors like health and housing.