Africa

South Africa universities close amid student fee protests

uct Image copyright @adamoosthuizen
Image caption The hashtag #FeesMustFall is trending in South Africa

Protests over fee increases have forced the suspension of teaching at three of South Africa's top universities.

Protests have spread from Johannesburg's Wits University, closed last week after thousands demonstrated on campus, to the universities of Rhodes and Cape Town (UCT).

Wits University agreed to suspend a 10.5% tuition fee increase on Friday, pending negotiations with students.

Protesters argue that poorer, mainly black students would be worst affected.

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A statement from Wits University said that a decline in state subsidy over the years, combined with inflationary pressures, were behind the fee increases in recent years.


Analysis: Pumza Fihlani, BBC News, Johannesburg

Many of the affected universities are historically white institutions and while the demographics in the classrooms have changed since the end of apartheid in 1994, critics say the economic conditions of black families wanting to enrol their children have all but remained the same.

Black students say the institutions' high fees are now keeping them from getting a good education. Many say they rely on student loans and scholarships and these are at times difficult to secure.

It does not take much for an issue to become racially charged here in South Africa as the country still nurses a hang-over from decades of white minority rule.

But ironically it is the "born-free" generation, those born after the advent of democracy, now calling for transformation in the elite institutions. Some are calling for free education hoping this will level the playing fields between the affluent and the poor.


Higher Education Minister Blade Nzimande, appearing on national broadcaster SABC, said that he was convening a meeting on Tuesday for university administrators, employees and student leaders to discuss fee increases.

The minister urged university authorities "to exercise greater caution and sensitivity in the process of determining fee increases", saying a solution would need to balance the difficulties of poorer students with the financial pressures currently facing the system.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption The campaign to remove the statue of Cecil Rhodes was also about tackling continued racial inequality

The hashtag #FeesMustFall has been trending across South Africa, in an echo of #RhodesMustFall, which was used by UCT students in their successful campaign to have a statue of British colonialist Cecil Rhodes removed in April.

At Rhodes university in Eastern Cape Province, classes were suspended after students armed with sticks set up barricades of burning tyres, blocking road access to main campus entrances.

Court order

UCT is "notoriously the most expensive university in the country, if not on the continent," Rori Moseli, a second year student at UCT and a member of the student representative council, told the BBC's Focus on Africa radio programme.

He said that students were seeing fee increases of 10-12% every year, roughly twice the rate of annual inflation in South Africa.

"For a long time, we've brought up these issues... but it seems as though we get ignored," he added.

Image copyright Mmabatho Thobejane
Image caption Students broke through a locked door to enter the building, according to local media reports

Students at UCT broke into a building on campus on Monday, after being locked out and ordered to leave the campus by university authorities.

UCT has secured an order from the High Court in Cape Town to "prevent protesters from interfering with university operations", which comes into force at 07:00 local time (05:00 GMT) on Tuesday.

The order authorises the police to enforce its terms, which include a ban on barricading entrances and occupying buildings on the the university campus.

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