Protesters and police clash at South African student demonstration

Students chant slogans as they carry rocks during clashes with the South African police at Johannesburg's University of the Witwatersrand, South Africa, October 4, 2016. REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko
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By Dinky Mkhize and Ed Stoddard

JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) – Protesters at South Africa’s Wits University attacked police vehicles with rocks and overturned another on Tuesday, as violence in nationwide demonstrations over high tuition fees escalated.

Police fired stun grenades, rubber bullets and teargas at hundreds of students who marched through the university’s campus in Johannesburg, performing the “toyi-toyi” protest dance made popular during the struggle against oppressive white rule.

At least two people were arrested earlier when police moved in to enforce a court order on public gathering at Wits, whose full name is University of the Witwatersrand.

Demonstrations over the cost of university education, which is prohibitive for many black students, have highlighted frustration at enduring inequalities in Africa’s most industrialised country more than two decades after the end of apartheid.

“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,” said one final year law student, who was not taking part in the protest but did not want to give his name.

The square in front of the main hall on campus was strewn with spent shotgun shells and rocks after several skirmishes between police and protesters.

A police woman in riot gear hobbling from the scene with assistance from her colleagues told Reuters she had been hit in the leg with a stone thrown by protesters.

Protests first erupted last year, then subsided as the government froze fee increases and set up a commission to look into the education funding system.

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The unrest boiled over again, closing some classes and universities, when the commission said on Sept. 19 that fees would continue to rise, albeit with an 8 percent cap in 2017.

“Following yesterday’s harassment of our staff, we have no choice but to deploy police around campus,” said university spokeswoman Shirona Patel.

She said the university, which shut down during the earlier protests, had reopened on Monday, but some students had forced some of the lecturers out of their offices.

University administrators across South Africa have warned that any further fee freezes could damage their academic programmes. ($1 = 13.6200 rand)

(Additional reporting and writing by Tiisetso Motsoeneng; Editing by Stella Mapenzauswa and Alison Williams)

 

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