Saturday, February 27, 2016

Wave of Violent Student Demonstrations Has Erupted Across South Africa
Students at North-West University torched buildings and a science centre
Private security and police fought crowds with tear gas and rubber bullets
School pupils in North West province protest having their breasts 'groped'
Majority of protests demand lower tuition fees, more student housing and erasing remnants of the country's racist past

23:39 EST, 25 February 2016

Students have torched campus buildings at a university in South Africa after protests turned violent overnight, as school pupils launched protests against being 'groped' by male teachers.

It comes as violent student protests erupt across the country, the majority of which are calling for lower tuition fees, more student housing and erasing remnants of South Africa's racist past.

Three of the nation's top universities have been forced to close so far, as the violence continues.

Police and private security firms attempted to disperse the crowds of student demonstrators at North-West University last night with tear gas and rubber bullets, as students returned fire with stones.

Shocking footage of last night's protest show flames erupting from the windows of the university's administration buildings, which were also home to a science centre.

'I am as shocked as you are about the senseless violence and destruction of property that took place at our Mafikeng Campus yesterday,' said North-West University's Vice Chancellor, Professor Dan Kgwadi in a statement today.  

'Though the incident was related to the inauguration of the newly appointed Campus Student Representative Council (CSRC), we must realise that this was not an isolated incident.

'At many other universities protests have become violent and have escalated. Therefore the situation also needs to be addressed at national level.'

The violence at the university started after some students disrupted the inauguration of a new student council.

Defying a court order, suspended student leader Benz Mabengwane entered the university and addressed his supporters.

Mabengwane is part of a dissolved student council calling for the removal of Afrikaans as a teaching language, which it says unfairly benefits white students on the historically white Potchefstroom campus.

Mabengwane denied that his supporters were behind the fires.

The Mafikeng campus has now been evacuated and been shut down indefinitely.

South African President Jacob Zuma said: 'No amount of anger should drive students to burn their own university and deny themselves and others education.

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

Elsewhere in the North West province, school students went on a rampage after claiming to have had enough of being sexually harassed and abused by their teachers.

Police had to be called in to control the situation at Jan Masibi Middle School at Disaneng village, west of Mafikeng, as pupils smashed windows and damaged ceilings.

Male students had been accused of touching female pupils' breasts under false pretences, such as when searching for mobile phones.

'Male teachers touch our breast saying they are looking for cellphones, and you can see they are enjoying it,' said a Grade 10 pupil.

Other pupils reported punishments that were completely disproportionate to their alleged misdemeanours.

Some claimed to have been suspended for seven days as a punishment after arriving late to school, while another reported being choked in front of other pupils for addressing a teacher in the Tswana language rather than in English.  

In recent days in South Africa, black and white students have even come to blows over the use of Afrikaans as a teaching language, an echo of the 1976 student uprising in the Soweto township south of Johannesburg against apartheid.

Those bloody protests, forcibly put down by security forces, erupted over a rule that classes be taught in Afrikaans, considered to be the language of the white oppressor.

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.

Meanwhile, excrement was smeared across the floors of many lecture halls at the University of Cape Town (UCT) – one of the country’s top institutions – however the university remained open.

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.

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.

The university said in a statement that 'the reaction from the group of spectators…not only opened old wounds, it trampled, literally and figuratively, on the dignity and humanity of other human beings.'

Morne Mostert, leader of the cultural group's youth wing, told the South African Broadcasting Corporation that rather than do away with Afrikaans, universities should develop education in black African languages.

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