South African Students’ Protests Leave One Person Dead

South Africa Africa Higher Education News by Erudera News Mar 11, 2021

Johannesburg south africa

One person was shot to death on Wednesday after the police fired rubber bullets to break up protests at the University of Witwatersrand (Wits) in Johannesburg, a student leading protests said.

The violence erupted after days of peaceful protests, which were caused by the demand for the university to allow students with debt to register for the new academic year, regardless of the  50,000 rands ($9,850) in fees debt, reports.

According to Wits University, two other students got shot and injured as well as three students were arrested in Braamfontein, where the university is located.

The student representative council president, Mpendulo Mfeka, said the person shot was not a student, but this information hasn’t been confirmed by the authorities yet.

For many Black students, the cost of university education is considered as one of the inequalities that students suffer in South Africa even two decades since the end of apartheid; the 1948’s racial segregation.

The Independent Police Investigative Directorate (IPID) claimed it was examining the incident.

“The Directorate has dispatched four investigation officers to probe the allegations, the team will also cordon the crime scene and conduct the investigation, including locating the person with the video footage, identify eyewitnesses,” it said in a statement.

Due to economic discrepancy, most South African students belong to the so-called “missing middle.” They cannot qualify for government financial aid but are also not affluent enough to pay their study fees. 

“They (police) threw stun grenades to try and disperse the protest, but we didn’t run away, so they started firing rubber bullets. The person who was shot was shot directly in the head,” said Mfeka.

Students also demand to graduate regardless of their debt, no further increases in residence or tuition fees, and for students admitted to the Wits residencies to be accommodated there immediately.

Professor of the University of Wits, Zeblon Vilakazi responded to the 30 students’ organizations’ demands saying they cannot be met all at once. According to Vilakazi, 8,000 students are at risk of failing university due to debt. During a meeting last week, the university discussed COVID-19 financial aids to ease students’ financial situation.

Professor Vilakazi also mentioned that the government is issuing a seven million Rands hazard funding for the students. As per returning to campus request, Vilakazi stated that the university is guided by Government’s COVID-19 regulations and can act on demand once the restrictions lessen.

In 2016, extensive student protests for less tuition for high education forced many universities in South Africa to close temporarily.

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