Three South African universities close after violent protests

AFP , Thursday 25 Feb 2016

South Africa Unis Protests
File photo taken on October 21, 2015 shows students marching through the campus of the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, during a protest against fee hikes. Violent demonstrations and arson attacks that burnt down campus buildings forced at least three South African universities to shut their doors on Thursday, 25 February 2016 in a new wave of student protests. Universities have been a focus for unrest in recent months over issues including rising tuition fees, allegations of racism and a dispute over the use of the Afrikaans language. (Photo: AFP)

At least three South African universities closed Thursday after a new wave of student protests that have seen buildings torched over high tuition fees and allegations of racism.

Excrement was smeared across the floors of many lecture halls at the University of Cape Town (UCT) -- one of the country's top institutions -- which however remained open.

Campuses have been a focus for unrest in recent months over a slew of issues including a hike in fees, allegations of racism and a dispute over the use of the Afrikaans language.

Buildings at the North West University's Mafikeng campus were torched on Wednesday night, including a science centre and an administration building which held student records.

President Jacob Zuma condemned the destruction of property on campuses, which also hit the University of Free State and the University of Pretoria.

"No amount of anger should drive students to burn their own university and deny themselves and others education," he said in a statement.

"The burning of university buildings at a time when we are prioritising the education of our youth is inexplicable and can never be condoned."

Police used rubber bullets and teargas at North-West University to disperse students who left a trail of destruction during a protest over what they said was a rigged election of a student council.

The university said that the campus was closed indefinitely.

A protest at the University of Pretoria over the use of Afrikaans led to clashes between black and white students, also forcing the university to shut down.

"The university is currently meeting with various student bodies and stakeholders to address the issues affecting learning," spokeswoman Anna-Retha Bouwer told AFP.

In 1976, black high school pupils in Soweto rebelled against attempts to introduce Afrikaans as the medium of instruction, an uprising seen as a major turning point in the fight against apartheid.

UCT vice chancellor Max Price expressed his "abhorrence" after students on Wednesday threw faeces around university facilities.

"Not only is flinging poo around a dangerous health hazard; it is also an affront to our shared humanity," he said in statement.

Last week, Price's office was petrol-bombed, and paintings ripped from walls and burnt outside.

University vice-chancellors issued a statement saying the unrest was organised by groups "to deliberately disrupt and destabilise our universities through intimidation and violence."

"We also denounce external parties that increase divisions between our students and staff," it said, referring to political activists accused of hijacking the students' protests.

Elsewhere, racial tension flared up at the Free State University in Bloemfontein when a rugby match was interrupted earlier this week. The Free State is the heartland of Afrikaners.

Black protesters walked in a line across the pitch during the game, before hundreds of white spectators ran on and a mass brawl erupted.

Workers at the campus in Bloemfontein, most of them black, have been protesting to demand an end to outsourcing -- when non-teaching services such as cleaning are taken on by private companies.

South Africa has been roiled by a string of racial disputes that have exposed deep divisions more than two decades after the end of white-minority rule.

Last year massive protests by students -- many of them so-called "born frees" who grew up after apartheid -- pushed the government into abandoning planned tuition fee hikes.

UCT students also led a successful campaign for the removal of a statue of British imperialist Cecil John Rhodes from their campus.

The issue of education fees ignited widespread frustration over a lack of opportunities for young people, worsened by a weakening economy and high unemployment.

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