Students block Johannesburg roads in protest over university fees

Stones hurled at police after water cannon is deployed

15 March 2021 - 08:43 By Iavan Pijoos and Shonisani Tshikalange
Protesting students burn boxes in the street in Braamfontein on Monday March 15 2020.
Protesting students burn boxes in the street in Braamfontein on Monday March 15 2020.
Image: Alaister Russell/Sunday Times

Students took to the streets of Johannesburg early on Monday to continue their protests about fees as 26 universities across SA braced for a national shutdown.

The police used a water cannon to disperse students who started fires on the street in Braamfontein, sending them scattering for cover. Shortly afterwards students responded by hurling stones at the police.

Johannesburg metro police department (JMPD) spokesperson Xolani Fihla said officers were on high alert as students continued to protest in Braamfontein - demanding businesses close.

“As JMPD we are on high alert and officers have been deployed in the area of Auckland Park ... The routes we are closely monitoring are Kingsway Avenue in Auckland Park, Empire Road, Jan Smuts Avenue, the Johannesburg CBD and within the Braamfontein precinct.”

Fihla said at about 6am there were reports of burning tyres in Auckland Park.

Students later burnt boxes in the streets of Braamfontein as police reinforcements arrived with a water canon. Several businesses shut their doors.

“Close, close, close,” students shouted as they tried to force shops that had stayed open to shut their doors.

Wits University’s senior executive team called on “all parties to remain calm, to exercise maximum restraint, and to attempt to resolve issues through dialogue and engagement”.

After deliberations with the student representative council (SRC) on Friday evening, the team met on Sunday to discuss a list of demands from students and planned to meet the SRC again on Monday afternoon.

Key demands presented to the university include:

  • Wits (and other universities) should postpone the commencement of the academic year to March 30 2021;
  • all students must be allowed to register, irrespective of the quantum of debt owing to the university;
  • all students must be allowed to graduate, irrespective of the quantum of debt owing to the university;
  • there should be no fee increases for 2021;
  • all students who receive residence offers must be allowed to occupy residences with immediate effect;
  • universities must pressurise government for a debt bailout for all institutions;
  • all international students from the Southern African Development Community and broader diaspora regions must be allowed to register without having to make payment of 75% of the tuition fee up front; and
  • all suspension orders must be uplifted with immediate effect.

“A Universities SA meeting will be held early on Monday with the 26 vice-chancellors of public universities at which some of these issues will be discussed. We will communicate the outcomes of this meeting to our various constituencies thereafter,” said Wits.

The South African Students Congress (Sasco) called for a shutdown of universities on Monday after a meeting with the ANC’s top six, which is due to resume on Monday.

Both sides agreed in principle that universities should not exclude students who owe historical debt from registering for the 2021 academic year, Sunday Times Daily reported on Monday.

The debt owed to the 26 institutions by students is about R10bn.