Friday, October 23, 2015 12:00 pm
Thousands of angry South African university students capped a week of protests on Friday with a march on the buildings in Pretoria where President Jacob Zuma has his offices.
Police had set up guard around the building before a scheduled address by Zuma. The students chanted slogans, argued with the police and pulled down a fence around the building, as the post-apartheid “Born Free” generation starts to flex its political muscle.
“He’s not taking us seriously, we’ve been here for a while,” one student said on television.
Student leaders are due to meet Zuma and university professors at the Union Buildings to press their case, arguing that the costs of tuition are too high for many blacks, perpetuating South Africa’s racial inequalities.
“The President will use the meeting to gain a first-hand account from students about issues that are of concern to them which affect their capacity to learn and do well at the institutions,” the presidency said in a statement.
“President Zuma also welcomes the gathering of students at the seat of government, the Union Buildings, today.”
Tuition fees vary across different universities, but can run as high as 60,000 rand ($4,500) for medical students in a country where white households earn six times more than black households, according to official figures.
Protests – some of them violent – have broken out at universities across the country this week, taking the ruling African National Congress (ANC) by surprise.
On Wednesday, riot police threw stun grenades at students who stormed the parliament precinct in Cape Town as Finance Minister Nhlanhla Nene delivered his interim budget in which he painted a gloomy outlook for Africa’s most advanced economy.
Thousands of students from Wits and the University of Johannesburg marched through South Africa’s commercial capital on Thursday and gathered outside Luthuli House, the headquarters of the ANC where they handed a list of demands to the ruling party’s Secretary General Gwede Mantashe.
In Cape Town, students marched in the city on Thursday and engaged police in skirmishes as officers fired stun grenades.
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.
Analysts say loosening the purse strings could also encourage other sectors of society to push for greater government assistance.