Johannesburg: Protesters at South Africa’s Wits University overturned a police vehicle and threw stones at others on Tuesday as violence at nationwide demonstrations over high tuition fees escalated.
Police fired stun grenades, rubber bullets and tear gas at hundreds of students who marched through the university’s campus in Johannesburg, dancing the “toyi-toyi” – a common display of protest throughout decades of struggle against white rule.
At least two people were arrested when police moved in to enforce a court order on public gathering at Wits – University of the Witwatersrand.
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.
“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 help from her colleagues told Reuters she had been hit in the leg with a stone thrown by protesters.
Protests first erupted last year, then eased off as the government froze fee increases and set up a commission to look into the education funding system.
The unrest boiled over again, closing some classes and universities, when the commission said on September 19 that fees would continue to rise, albeit with an 8% cap in 2017.
“Following yesterday’s harassment of our staff, we have no choice but to deploy police around campus,” university spokeswoman Shirona Patel said.
She said the university, which shut during the earlier protests, had reopened on Monday, but some students had forced some of the lecturers out of their offices.
Wits said it would remain open, despite saying earlier that further demonstrations may force it to close.
“We know that the majority of students and staff want classes to continue and it is for this reason that we will once again resume the academic programme tomorrow,” Wits said in a statement.
University of Cape Town also said it would open as usual on Wednesday despite protests at its campuses.
University administrators across South Africa have warned that any further fee freezes could affect academic programmes.