South African police on Friday fired stun grenades at students, who lit fires outside President Jacob Zuma’s offices, following a week of protests.
The week long demonstration by students has been described as the first signs of the post-apartheid ‘Born Free’ generation flexing its muscle.
Students protesting against fee increases hurled stones at police guarding the Union Buildings ahead of an address by Zuma.
A few pushed through a cordon before being pushed back by anti-riot police who also used water cannons to douse the fires.
The protest caps a week of angry demonstrations over the cost of university education – prohibitive for many blacks – amid frustration at the inequalities that persist two decades after the end of white-minority rule.
But low growth since a 2009 recession has forced the government to keep a lid on spending, meaning that it has little spare cash to offer students in the form of enhanced subsidies.
“He’s not taking us seriously, we’ve been here for a while,” one student said.
The students danced, singing, “we the students dream of free education, we are not afraid of the police, our fight will win.”
A statement by the presidency said ‘’ Zuma was meeting in private with student leaders and university management to discuss the current countrywide impasse between universities and students regarding the proposed annual fee increments.”
Tuition fees vary across universities, but can run as high as 60,000 rand ($4,500) per year for medical students in a country where white households still earn six times more than black households, according to official figures.
Universities say they need higher fees to keep up standards and they urged the government to find the extra money but government, which subsidises universities, said it could not afford the free education that students are demanding.
Thousands of students from Wits and the University of Johannesburg marched through South Africa’s commercial capital on Thursday to Luthuli House, the headquarters of the ANC, where they handed a list of demands to officials.
On Friday, Africa’s top-rated university, the University of Cape Town, said it had postponed the start of final examination due from October.