South African police yesterday used water cannons to disperse groups of protesting Johannesburg university students demanding the government provide free tertiary education for the poor.
The demonstrations came only days after violent protests over slow provision of basic services like electricity and water in poor shanty towns around Johannesburg.
With less than 100 days to go before the World Cup, which will put South Africa in the centre of world attention, the demonstrations are providing scenes reminiscent of the apartheid era. The protests are organised by the South African Students Congress (Sasco), the country's largest student movement, which wants members to boycott lectures at nine universities.
Sasco said insufficient government subsidies to universities and difficulties in accessing state student loans deprived tens of thousands of poor South Africans of an education.
Students blocked entrances to the University of Johannesburg campus and police used water cannon on several occasions to disperse the crowds. "The situation is now calm and students and the university management are in discussions," police spokeswoman Julia Claasen said. Similar standoffs have been reported at institutions in other parts of the country. Sasco plans to march to parliament in Cape Town today to demand the government provide free undergraduate education by next year. On Tuesday, one policeman was shot in the chest during protests in shanty towns near Johannesburg over poor living conditions. The policeman was taken to hospital and his condition was judged stable. Eleven demonstrators were arrested.
"We want better lives, development and dignity. Each and every time we voted for the ANC but it seems we are forgotten," said Nicky Khulu, a 29-year-old resident of Orange Farm, a township outside Johannesburg.