Police officers, students clash over S. Africa university fees
JOHANNESBURG — One of South Africa’s top universities descended into violence on Monday, with police firing tear gas, rubber bullets and a water cannon at stone-throwing students who are locked in a bitter national dispute with administrators and the government over demonstrators’ demands for free education for some students.
Stun grenades boomed and gunshots crackled as police cleared protesters at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, the most prominent site of a student movement that recently shut other universities and prompted official warnings that badly needed medics, engineers and other skilled workers might not be able to graduate this year.
As police helicopters circled, some protesters spilled into city streets. A bus was set on fire, and thick smoke billowed into the air. A Catholic priest who appealed for calm was struck in the mouth by a rubber bullet and was being treated, South African media reported.
The university, also known as Wits, accused students of throwing rocks “that could have maimed or killed people” and said protesters had responded to negotiation offers from the campus administration with threats.
Students disrupted classes and threw rocks on several other campuses nationwide, said Khomotso Phahlane, the acting police commissioner. He said there was no need for a state of emergency.
The government paid 39 percent of the cost of running universities in the state system in 2015, down from 50 percent in 2000, according to a study by supporters of free education. Dwindling state money resulted in higher fees for students with limited resources, it said. There are 26 universities receiving state funds.
A police officer and a student protester clash Monday at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg amid a bitter national dispute over education funding.