South African tuition fee hikes cancelled after nationwide protests

President Jacob Zuma says he ‘understands the difficulty faced by students’ as demonstration also held outside South African High Commission in London

October 23, 2015
Jacob Zuma, president of South Africa
Jacob Zuma, president of South Africa. Source: iStock

South African President Jacob Zuma has announced that tuition fee increases proposed by the country’s universities will be cancelled, after more than a week of nationwide protests.

Speaking after a meeting with university leaders and student representatives, Mr Zuma said that the government “understands the difficulty faced by students from poor households” and would “seek solutions that are in the best interests of the country”.

As the meeting was continuing, police used stun grenades and water cannon against students attempting to break into the presidential offices in Pretoria.

A crowd of between 100 and 150 people also gathered outside the South African High Commission in London, according to the Metropolitan Police, which made two arrests.

Demonstrations began on 17 October at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg after it proposed a 10.5 per cent increase in fees, and they quickly spread across the country.

At least 10 universities were affected, including the University of Cape Town and Rhodes University, and many were forced to suspend classes.

Protesters argued that the poorest students, from black families, would be hardest hit by fee increases.

In an address to the nation, Mr Zuma confirmed that there would be a “zero increase of university fees” and said that the examinations period would be extended to compensate for the time lost to closures.

“Government understands the difficulty faced by students from poor households and urges all affected to allow the process to unfold to find long-term solutions in order to ensure access to education by our students,” Mr Zuma said. “I thank all stakeholders for the constructive manner in which the meeting was conducted, which augurs well for future engagements that will seek solutions that are in the best interests of the country.”

A Met spokeswoman said that two people had been arrested after climbing on to the railings of the South African High Commission.

“One male was later released with no further action,” she said. “The other male was arrested for criminal damage and is currently in custody at a central London police station.”

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