Mbeki strives to calm violence

April 1, 2005

South African President Thabo Mbeki has criticised student protesters who have severely disrupted universities since the academic year started in February. Several demonstrations have turned violent.

Students are angry about fee increases, lack of financial aid, exclusions and "badly managed" mergers. They also complained about unequal resources on campuses, racism and academic discrimination.

But Mr Mbeki, while demanding universities respond "seriously to legitimate concerns", said that destructive behaviour would not be tolerated on campuses.

Naledi Pandor, Education Minister, also condemned the violence. She said disputes could be resolved through dialogue only.

Students went on the rampage at universities including Pretoria, Johannesburg, KwaZulu-Natal, Limpopo and Transkei, and at the Tshwane and Durban institutes of technology. Students smashed property and harassed people. In some cases the police used tear gas, water cannon and rubber bullets to disperse the protesters.

At Pretoria, supporters of the radical Pan Africanist Student Movement of Azania (Pasma) threatened to "kill the whites" and "kill the police", warning "revolution is the only solution".

Vusi Mahlangu, a Pasma leader, said: "We are tired of being discriminated against because we cannot pay the fees."

Increases in funds for loans and bursaries to poor students have not kept up with the increase in student numbers. The participation rate stands at 20 per cent, up from 15 per cent in 2000.

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