Student fee increases in South Africa spark violent protests

Campuses in Johannesburg and Cape Town are shut as demonstrations continue

A government announcement on Monday that university fees in South Africa could increase by up to 8 percent next year has led to violent student protests in campuses nationwide.

Higher education and training minister Blade Nzimande called on Thursday for "everyone to stand up and say no to this anarchy", blaming the protests on a "small band of students" intent on disrupting the academic programme.

Third-level campuses in cities including Johannesburg, Durban and Cape Town have shut their doors for the remainder of the week in a bid to lessen the chaos, protect property and avoid injuries to staff and students.

The closures came after daily running battles between police and student protesters, some of whom have reportedly been intimidating classmates who try to attend lectures.


The latest protests are linked the FeesMustFall campaign and mass protests that students began 18 months ago, which has free education for all as its primary goal.

In the immediate aftermath of th initial protests the government froze fee increases for 2016, but universities have insisted that unless fees are increased they cannot function properly.

On Monday Mr Nzimande announced that tertiary education institutions across South Africa were now permitted to individually determine the level of their 2017 fee increases, although the amount was capped at 8 percent.

"There are many students from the upper-middle class and well-off families, as well as students on full company bursaries in our institutions, who can afford to pay the adjusted 2017 fees, and we expect them to do so," Mr Nzimande said during his initial media briefing in Pretoria.

On Wednesday Jonathan Heher, chairman of the fees commission set up by South Africa's president Jacob Zuma to look into the feasibility of free higher education, urged students to trust the work they are doing to find a solution to the problem.

The commission began public hearings in May that will conclude in 2017, and is expected to submit its final report to the president next June.

However, on Thursday student leaders from Witwatersrand University in Johannesburg announced they were co-ordinating with their counterparts across the country to organise a national march for next week.

So far none of the universities in South Africa has publicly announced whether it will take up the option of increasing its fees next year.

University of Cape Town academics and students held a demonstration outside parliament on Thursday in a bid to be heard by government, which they say has done little to address a funding crisis at third-level institutions other than approve the fee hikes.

Bill Corcoran

Bill Corcoran

Bill Corcoran is a contributor to The Irish Times based in South Africa