Hundreds of students from top South African universities are protesting over plans to increase tuition fees by 10% next year. In response to the mass strudent protests, the University of the Witwatersrand (Wits) postponed its fee increase decision while two other universities suspended classes and other campus activities.
Protesting students say they cannot afford a 10.5% increase in tuition fees, arguing that poorer students will have an especially hard time paying the steeper tuition fee coming next year.
The university had to remain closed for three days last week as protesting students blocked campus entrances. In response to the mass demonstrations, the university decided to postpone the decision and re-opened fee talks. Among the protesters were a contingent of medical students, Fox News says.
The University of Cape Town (UCT) was forced to suspend classes and other activities during the protests, characterizing the demonstration as "a threat to the safety of staff and students."
Professor Francis Petersen, acting vice-chancellor for UCT, expressed his disappointment that student protests in South African universities caused classes to be suspended. Pointing out unlawful protest activities in some campuses, Petersen said according to Times Live:
"While the University of Cape Town will always protect anyone's right to lawful protestâ we also value and protect the rights of those who do not participate or who hold different views.
Previously, the University had made an attempt to pacify students over the fee hike and prevent the demonstration from taking place. The university proposed that the issue was dealt with through a debate, Times Live says.
The statement issued by the University of Wits sought to empathize with students and their parents saying it acknowledges how tuition fees affect their families. The institution also justified the increase in fees saying it's the result of reduced state grants and the high cost of university utilities and services, reports Christopher Torchia of the Associated Press via US News.
An official statement released by the university says the decision to suspend operations was made in a bid to prevent the situation from escalating. They characterized the student demonstration as âunlawful'.
Rhodes University also suspended classes and other operations because of the protests.
"In our fight for free education we need to ensure that all students can have access to these institutions and not only a certain class of students can have access," said Nompendulo Mkhatshwa, student council president-elect at Wits, according to Reuters.
Due to the South African rand's weakness over the US dollar, schools are buying books, journals and other research services at considerably higher prices than before, Nqobile Dludla for Reuters notes.