Protesting students clash with police in South Africa

Students arrested as police fire tear gas, rubber bullets, and stun grenades against protesters.

South African police have used tear gas, rubber bullets and stun grenades against students protesting for free education in Johannesburg.

Two students were arrested and another and one staff member were injured in the violence on Tuesday at the University of the Witwatersrand, or Wits.

Similar unrest has occurred since last month at other financially struggling South African universities, forcing a number, including Wits, to close.

The university sought to re-open on Tuesday; the main campus was disrupted, but classes proceeded on other Wits campuses.

Protesters said they want free university education to help close South Africa’s inequality gap, which is still largely divided along colour lines.

“Poor students can get government loans to cover their fees, but when they get a job they are also expected to support family members, so they say it was a double burden of repaying loans and trying to lift their loved ones out of poverty. They call it a Black Tax,” said Al Jazeera’s Tania Page, reporting from Johannesburg.

The students were angry at how President Jacob Zuma treated them at a meeting on Monday.

“When we arrived the president read out a statement and then he left,” Fasiha Hassan, a protest leader, told Al Jazeera. “They are not taking us seriously. We don’t come out on the streets for fun. It’s the only way to get anyone to listen to us.”

Historically, the governing African National Congress (ANC) has promised free education, free housing, and free healthcare, which won the party votes in the past. But the ANC has not delivered.

The government said, however, that it would cover next year’s fee increase for the majority of students.

Adam Habib, chancellor of Witwatersrand university, told Al Jazeera he too was committed to the students’ cause – but not at any cost.

“Many of us actually warned about this very crisis, and that’s the dilemma we are in, so yes to the cause as a legitimate one, no to losing the 2016 academic year,” he said.

Two students were also arrested at the University of Cape Town, where protesters tried to block entrances and disrupt lectures, said Max Price, the vice-chancellor. However, he said, most operations proceeded at the university, which had also been shut because of demonstrations.

Last year, students – many of them so-called “born frees”, who grew up after apartheid – staged a series of huge demonstrations that forced the government to abandon planned fee increases for 2016.

Funding for South Africa’s universities has been stretched as the economy endures flatlining growth and the government struggles with a 27 percent unemployment rate.

Student activism played a central role in the fight against apartheid, with the massacre of pupils in Soweto by white police officers in 1976 seen as a key date in the country’s tumultuous history.

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