JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) - South African students burned tyres and erected barricades at their Cape Town campus, leading to 23 arrests on Tuesday, as protests hit universities across the country over plans to hike tuition fees.
Students barricaded the entrances at University of Cape Town (UCT) and refused to leave, while their peers at Johannesburg’s University of the Witwatersrand (Wits), where protests dubbed #FeesMustFall on Twitter began on Oct. 13, overturned vehicles driving into the campus, local media reported.
At least five campuses were engulfed in demonstrations after universities proposed hiking fees by up to 11.5 percent next year.
Students say the move will further disadvantage black learners in Africa’s most advanced economy, who had little access to universities during decades of white apartheid rule.
A meeting between university dons and the higher education minister Blade Nzimande resolved to cap fee increases at 6 percent for 2016 in line with inflation at 4.6 percent, but some student leaders rejected the offer and the rallies raged on.
“They know very well that we can’t afford 6 percent. We want free quality education,” said Vuyani Pambo, Wits Economic Freedom Fighter chairperson.
Nzimande has said the government could not afford to provide free education for poor students.
Twenty-three UCT students were arrested and police said they would face charges of disrupting the peace. Several other UCT students gathered at the police station where the 23 were being held and demanded that they also be detained in solidarity.
Police fired stun grenades to disperse protesters at Rhodes University in Grahamstown in the southeast.
UCT and Rhodes remain closed, while students at Fort Hare University in Eastern Cape also joined the protests.
Stellenbosch University authorities obtained a court interdict to bar protests, as students gathered in groups on its campus east of Cape Town.
Live television footage showed police putting out fires and removing rubble at an entrance to the UCT.
“The situation yesterday and today is very, very problematic for us. Some examinations could not take place and work was disrupted everywhere on campus,” Francis Petersen, UCT’s acting vice-chancellor, said in a statement.
South Africa’s overall student population is mostly black and hampered by tight funding and the lingering effects of discrimination dating from white-minority rule. The proportion of blacks in higher education is still relatively low.
University administrators say that without much bigger subsidies from the government, they have no option but to raise fees to maintain academic standards.
Writing by James Macharia; Editing by Tom Heneghan