One of the top universities in South Africa was the scene of violence this Monday. Students were protesting and at certain point started throwing stones. Police fires tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse the crowd. They also used water cannons.
Students in South Africa are protesting over their right to education. A national dispute is going on between students on one side and school administrators and the government on the other. The students are participating in protests and making their demands for free education manifest.
Police Intervenes to Break Up Student Protest at Johannesburg University
The students’ protest turned to violence at the University of the Witwatersrand. The university is in Johannesburg, the largest city in South Africa. It is the most prominent university to be part of the students’ movement. The movement had a serious impact on the university system and might have an effect on society for the long term. So far, several other universities had to shut down. That could mean that highly qualified professionals like doctors or engineers will not graduate this year.
Police wanted to clear the protest at the University of the Witwatersrand. They used noise to disperse the students. The campus was filled with the sound of stun grenades and gunshots.
Jo Seoka is an Anglican bishop in Johannesburg. He joined the students’ movement and even participated in a student march that had taken place earlier in a show of support. He was present when the violence started and remembers the events.
“Hell broke out”
Said Jo Seoka.
The students were throwing rocks at the security guards that were blocking the entrance to the university’s Great Hall. That’s when the police stormed in. Seoka says that the police and the action they took effectively “militarized” the campus. He also made note of the fact that the police were not wearing ID on their uniforms. So they cannot be held accountable for the use of excessive force.
Police helicopters circled and police forces on the ground tried to contain the protest. But some protesters moved into the streets of the city. A bus was on fire and there was smoke in the air. A Catholic priest who was trying to get the violence to stop was hit by a rubber bullet in the face.
The Government Reacts to the Students’ Protest
The protests are affecting the education system, as universities across South Africa are joining the students’ movement.
Blade Nzimande, the Education Minister for South Africa spoke in the favor of dialogue. But, at the same time, he condemned the use of violence by the students. He said that the efforts of the university to hold its courses were being “held at ransom by irresponsible and disrespectful striking students”.
Reports say that 27 students were arrested on Monday in relation to the protests but the number could be higher. Several people were injured during the protests.
In 2015 there were large student protests regarding the same issue of school fees. So the government had to freeze the fee increases that it had planned out. But, a few weeks ago, the government simply made a recommendation that universities don not raise fees by more than 8 percent for next year.
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