To use a very South African phrase, Spencer’s education at Wits has been a bit “hectic” for the last couple of weeks. That’s because all classes have been postponed and the campus shut down on account of student protests under the banner #FeesMustFall.
The #FeesMustFall movement began in fall of 2015 when the University of Witwatersrand announced that tuition would be increased by 10.5% for the 2016-2017 school year. Students demonstrated over the rising costs of university education, which are prohibitively high for many poor students. After student protests, the university agreed to suspend the fee increase for the year and try to renegotiate a more acceptable solution.
When we arrived for registration in January, there were some disturbances and property damage around the campus, as well as a large presence of riot-control police. But things were generally fairly calm, and the school year proceeded without too much issue until this month.
Last week, the education Minister made a recommendation about fee increases for the 2017 academic year, reigniting tensions. Despite a cap on fee hikes at 8% and reassurances that it would not affect the poorest students, student protests on campus kicked off again. Lower rate increases are not enough – they now demand free higher education for all.
The protests have led to property damage, rock throwing and the discovery of crude petrol bombs on campus. Police and private security have responded with more rock throwing, stun grenades, and rubber bullets. Several students have been injured, and there have been reports of one death as a result of the protests. Those protesting seem to make up a small population of the whole student body, but their actions and the responses of the security forces have made the campus an unsafe place for all.
Academic activities have been suspended indefinitely at Wits, and all we can do is hope that a resolution is reached in soon and the term is not further disrupted. Fortunately, Spencer is able to continue with his research and his professors have shifted to temporary online-based teaching. There is a chance the campus will reopen on October 3rd, but rather than sit around and wait, we’re taking advantage of the break from classes and taking an impromptu road trip to Lesotho.
Like they always say: “When life gives you Molotov cocktails, take a vacation.”