This past week, college students in Johannesburg and Cape Town led protests over the high cost of university education. The protests were orchestrated in response to a government statement stipulating that university tuition will be increased by 8% in the next year. It was this increase in tuition fees that ignited violent protests last year, and resulted in the protestors’ attack on the South African Parliament.
Law enforcement has used violent means to suppress the protests.“Police used tear gas, rubber bullets as well as stun grenades to disperse the protesters in order to prevent them from taking the protest action to the streets closest to the university,” General Vuyisile Ngesi, a spokesman for the South African Police Service, said. They also have been instructed to “take back [the] campus,” according to Adam Habib, Wits University’s vice-chancellor in Johannesburg. Police have been stationed at many universities across the country, including Wits University. However, the strong police presence has been challenged by university presidents and officials.
Not all protests have been violent, though most have been involving violence such as throwing rocks. As a part of their expression of protest, non-violent protesters performed the “toyi-toyi” dance, which was popular during the fight against the oppressive Apartheid regime. The dance consists of people stomping their feet and chanting political slogans. Wit University students shouted, “Wits is Ours!”
South African students are in favor of a lower tuition, but do not believe that a completely free education is possible. One final year law student expressed his distress to Reuters; “I am not sure free education is feasible. And I am worried about attacks on other students. It’s inflicting fear in other students. It’s not right.”
High tuition is one of many economic inequalities that exist in South Africa. The country is the the continent’s most industrialized country, but economic struggle still runs deep even after the end of the Apartheid regime.