JOHANNESBURG: South African President Jacob Zuma on Thursday condemned a spate of disturbances at universities by students protesting over various grievances that have turned some campuses into battlegrounds.
The unrest appeared to reach a climax on Wednesday night when North West University students torched a car and buildings, forcing an indefinite shutdown of the campus.
At least four universities have been hit by sporadic protests this year following last year’s nationwide marches by students against university fee increases.
The protests have now morphed into complaints affecting individual campuses, unlike the #FeesMustFall demonstrations.
“The burning of university buildings at a time when we are prioritising the education of our youth is inexplicable and can never be condoned,” Zuma said in a statement.
Studies have been disrupted and some universities have been closed over new demands even after Zuma yielded in October to student demands not to increase university fees in 2016.
He also promised then that the government would spend more to help poor students meet the cost of university education.
Students have argued that higher fees would disadvantage black learners in Africa’s most industrialized economy who had little access to universities during decades of white apartheid rule, which ended in 1994.
North West University spokesman Koos Degenaar told Talk Radio 702 that the violence there began after protesters disrupted a student council meeting, prompting security guards to fire tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse the crowd.
At the University of the Free State, a group of mostly black protesters brawled with mainly white spectators at a rugby match on Monday night, as seen on a clip that aired on social media.
“The residences were evacuated from the morning and the campus has completely shut down (as) there was too much damage,” a student who declined to be named said.
At the University of Pretoria, some students are demanding to be taught in languages other than Afrikaans, a language they identify with apartheid.
And at the University of Cape Town (UCT), students are protesting at a lack of adequate campus accommodation.
“UCT has come in for its share of vandalism and violence,” UCT vice chancellor Max Price said, adding that on Thursday students threw excrement across the floors of many lecture venues and open spaces in several buildings on Upper Campus.