Socialist Worker

South African student revolt grows in face of repression

by Charlie Kimber
Issue No. 2524

Students protesting at Wits University on Monday

Students protesting at Wits University on Monday (Pic: Dinesh Balliah)

The South African students’ revolt against a tuition fee hike continues—and has defied the authorities’ attempts to stop demonstrations and protests.

For three weeks activists at universities across South Africa have marched and occupied their campuses. Their revolt was triggered by the African National Congress (ANC) government announcing that universities could increasefees by up to 8 percent from 2017.

They have faced rubber bullets, tear gas, stun grenades and arrests—but the resistance keep going.

Witwatersrand (Wits) University in Johannesburg, which had closed due to the scale of demonstrations, tried to restart class this Monday.

But activists were not intimidated by the heavy presence of police and private security guards. Students protested and the university remained closed.

At about the same time hundreds of demonstrators marched around the University of Cape Town. The following morning students blocked the entrance to the University of Johannesburg’s Soweto campus.

Several other colleges are closed.

Some academics have denounced police brutality and defended the protests.

The protests are rooted in how little has changed for the black majority after the end of apartheid. Political analyst Aubrey Matshiqi wrote this week, “One of the tragedies of post-apartheid South Africa is the fact that this core has remained untouched.

“A lot of the change that has happened has occurred outside the core of colonial and apartheid forms of social and economic engineering.

“We should, therefore, not be surprised that our universities are on fire—literally and figuratively.”


Over half of black university students do not graduate, many because they cannot afford accommodation, transport or even enough food. Fee rises will make it even harder for them.

The protests have sharply divided unions and political organisations.

The ANC Youth League has attacked the fees rise while the ANC itself said, “We call on students to return to lectures and continue with the academic programme. We appeal to parents to ensure an orderly return to learning.”

The Cosatu trade union federation has said it supports the students, but that they must turn their protests away from the government and towards private capital.

Cosatu plans a national strike over a range of issues related to working class living standardson this Friday and students may join marches and picket lines.

The Numsa metalworkers’ union, which has over 300,000 members, has fully backed the students.

It issued a statement saying, “The union reiterates its full support for the students’ struggle for free education.

“It urges them to unite with primary and high school learners, and young workers, employed and unemployed to fight the common enemy – the neoliberal economic policies championed by the ANC government.”

The Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), which has grown by speaking to the left of the ANC, says it plans to shut down university campuses across the countryon Monday.

EFF Students Command president Mpho Morolane, said, “There isn’t a university or college that is going to open here before the government introduces free, quality education.

“They must be prepared that the struggle is going to escalate.”

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