South Africa’s President Jacob Zuma said on Thursday he will meet student leaders and university authorities on Friday to discuss planned hikes in tuition fees that have sparked a week of nationwide protests, some of which have turned violent.
Critics say the increases would further disadvantage black students, who are already under-represented.
Zuma has not spoken publicly about the protests before, and on Wednesday students stormed the parliament precinct in Cape Town to try to disrupt the reading of Finance Minister Nhlanhla Nene’s interim budget.
He was stony-faced throughout Nene’s speech as chaos raged outside.
On Thursday he said in a statement, referring to plans for fees to rise as much as 11.5 percent: “Nobody disagrees with the message that students from poor households are facing financial difficulties and possible exclusion.”
Nene told Reuters on Wednesday that a process to take money from other skills development funds and move them to university education was already under way, but did not elaborate.
At least 15 of South Africa’s universities have seen protests since they broke out on Oct. 13 at Johannesburg’s University of the Witwatersrand, and have been dubbed #FeesMustFall on Twitter.
Three students were hurt during Wednesday’s rally in the Eastern Cape as protesters threw stones and burning tyres and police fired rubber bullets and stun grenades. It was not clear what caused their injuries.
At least 30 students were arrested.
Universities say they need higher fees to keep up standards and they urged the government to find the extra money.
The government, which subsidises universities, said it could not afford the free education that students are demanding.
No treason charges
The South African Police Service (SAPS) has dispelled rumours that students who were protesting outside Parliament have been charged with treason.
“Contrary to allegations doing the rounds that there were Cape Town students who were charged with treason following the mayhem at Parliament on Wednesday, the management of the police and the Hawks would like to set the record straight and dispel such malicious rumours,” said the police on Thursday.
This as students embarked on protests against university fee increments for next year.
During the illegal protest which saw students forcing their way into Parliamentary premises, six students were arrested and were detained at the Cape Town police station.
The students are due to appear in the Cape Town Magistrate’s Court today. They face charges of trespassing and contravening the Gatherings Act.
The SAPS further urged the media to report accurately.
“We urge media houses as well journalist and all media practitioners to ascertain the exact charges or get facts before publishing or posting on their personal social media accounts. Irresponsible reporting and speculation has the potential of fueling unnecessary violence,” said the SAPS.
At a special media briefing late on Wednesday, National Council of Provinces Chairperson Thandi Modise said the events that unfolded in the Parliamentary precinct were “regrettable”.
President Jacob Zuma has called a meeting with the management and leadership of universities as well as student leaders on Friday to discuss the stalemate regarding university fee increases.