S. African Students Protest Education Changes

South African police clashed with student protesters demanding free education Monday at the University of the Witwatersand (Wits), Reuters reports.

Demonstrators hurled rocks at private security guards armed with shields as police fired rubber bullets and tear gas to disperse the crowd at the Johannesburg campus.

The university is located in the Braamfontein district. Students took to the streets and several people reportedly attempted to topple a bus in downtown Johannesburg. They later set it ablaze, officials say.

For weeks, protests have ensued over the cost of university education, which is prohibitive for many Black students. The protests followed President Jacob Zuma’s announcement that the government could not afford free education for all.

The country’s government did say it would continue subsidizing university costs for the nation’s poorest students.

Police Commissioner Lientenant General Khomotso Phalane said officers fired teargas in retaliation after students disrupted classes at the institution by chasing students who showed up for lessons out of class with sticks.

“The police came under constant attacks by groups of students who pelted them with rocks,” he said.

A statement from a spokeswoman for the university said it had reopened, but lectures had been disrupted by large groups of protesters.

“We urge students and staff to return to classes this week, even if disruptions occur,” the statement read.

Palomino Jama, a member of the Wits Student Representative Council, Told Reuters that the university needs to pay attention to student needs.

“The protests are continuing because students’ demands have not been met. There hasn’t been sufficient engagement from the university.”

The government, grappling with a budget deficit of nearly 4 percent of GDP, has capped fee increases for 2017 at 8 percent. It contends that education subsidies should not come at the expense of other sectors such as health and housing.

Photo: Associated Press Images