The latest schools to be targeted by the protestors included Rhodes University, the University of Cape Town (UCT) and the University of the Witwatersrand (Wits).
Marches and rallies against the higher 2016 tuition fees began at Braamfontein campus a week ago. School officials there were barricaded in their offices by students who argued that the proposed charge of 10,000 rand or $752 from each student at the beginning of the year was unaffordable. Their actions signaled the growth of campus activism linked by social media including a student-run news wire with a Twitter feed (@Activateonline ), among others.
“We are merely fighting for education,” Nompendulo Mkhatshwa, students’ leader at Wits university in Johannesburg told the AFP news agency.
“We are fighting to open the doors, so that every black child… can have a chance to play a role in developing the economy of this country.”
School officials maintain that their hands are tied: government subsidies for South African universities are declining and utilities are up, higher than inflation. The weakening of South Africa’s currency has made purchases of research equipment, books and journals more costly in foreign currencies.
The nationwide protests have launched a debate about the role of state funding in education, in a country where a university education—inclusive of tuition, accommodation and books—costs an average of R 100 000 per year (close to $8,000), against the backdrop of high unemployment (25% in the previous quarter), and low monthly wages for the average South African worker.
Meanwhile, a recent census of university participation by race finds that blacks and whites are further apart with 3.4 percent black enrollment to 23.3 percent by whites. Mixed race is at 3 percent and Asian at 13.1 percent.