South African Universities Cause Protests

By Sarah Kuehn
International News Writer

In Pretoria, South Africa, students are protesting in response to an announced 10-12 percent increase in university fees for the 2016 academic year, according to BBC.

The protests are the largest in the area since the end of apartheid in 1994. In just over a week, the student protestors have managed to mobilize a nationwide movement, according to Al Jazeera.

Currently, three universities remain closed: Wits University in Johannesburg, the origin of the protests, the University of Cape Town, and the University of Western Cape Town. Demonstrations have spread to at least 10 more universities.

BBC reporter Pumza Fihlani, located in Johannesburg, states that “students say a number of their other demands have been overlooked,” such as free education for the poor.

Students are also demanding that their exams, due this week, be indefinitely postponed.

The universities’ responses to the protests are that fees needed to be increased so that university standards could be maintained, as there was a reduction in government subsidies.

The government responded to protests rather promptly, with President Zuma agreeing to provide more money for universities on Friday, Oct. 23; however, during the meeting it was unclear how much would be paid, or where the money would come from, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Cape Town, Max Price, told the BBC.

Later, when Mr. Zuma announced on TV that the fee increases would be frozen, students continued protesting, angry that he did not speak to crowds directly.

In an effort to end the protests, the government then had President Jacob Zuma agree to a 0 percent increase in tuition fees.
Despite this action, the protests have continued, according to the BBC.

During the demonstrations, it has become apparent that the protests were not just about the increased fees, but also about the unaddressed social challenges in South Africa, like racial inequality.

Many people in South Africa are saying that they still feel the effects of apartheid more than 20 years later. A popular sign carried by the protesters reads “Our parents were made promises in 1994. We’re just here for the refund,” according to the BBC.

Education is the one area where students state that the inequality is most prevalent.

The protesters want the government to honor promises made in 1994, mainly free education for everyone, the belief being that it will help break the cycle of poverty and unemployment, according to the BBC.

Some protests escalated with police using stun grenades and water cannons to stop student protestors from breaking into government buildings in Pretoria.

Those most affected by these fee increases are the black students, who say they come from poorer families and that this fee increase will rob them of their opportunity to continue their education, according to the BBC.

The extreme income equality in the country remains more than two decades after the end of apartheid, and the “born free” generation, those born after the end of the apartheid, want the opportunities that were promised to them.

A version of this article appeared in the Tuesday, November 3rd print edition.

Contact Sarah at
sarah.kuehn@student.shu.edu

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