South African students' protests against the personal financial burden of a university education rumble on, punctuated by spikes of violence. Administrators struggle to curb disruption to academic life.
Students at the University of Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, clashed with police at a demonstration on Thursday. A student leader, Shaeera Kalla, was hit multiple times in the back by police rubber bullets, the university's student council said. University spokesperson Shirona Patel told the News24 news website that "we know she was shot nine times by police [and is] being treated by campus health and taken to hospital." Later reports said Kalla was being treated for 13 rubber bullet wounds.
On Wednesday, one of the university‘s libraries was set on fire. No one claimed responsibility for the blaze which damaged at least 100 books. Patel said security personnel "have determined that the fire was started by a flammable substance which may have been hidden in a bag found at the scene. The fire was extinguished quickly and a high level investigation is underway by the security and the police."
Student protests against the high cost of a university education also turned violent in other parts of South Africa. Police in Pretoria used stun grenades to disperse hundreds of students who had gathered for a demonstration outside the offices of President Jacob Zuma.
The students' list of demands included the release of protestors detained by police during previous demonstrations.
"We are here to submit our memorandum demanding free education and the release of the arrested students," a student from the University of Technology in Pretoria told Reuters.
Government spokesperson Bongani Lunga called for calm. "While students have a democratic right to protest, what is unacceptable is the destruction of property and the violence we have seen in various campuses," he said.
Student protests are just one of the many challenges facing embattled South African President Jacob Zuma
Students took to the streets in September when the government recommended that university tuition fee increases for 2017 be capped at 8 percent. The cap, which was higher than the current inflation rate of 6.1 percent, was felt by students to be unacceptable.
In a bid to end the protests, the government said 70 percent of students would be spared the increase through the introduction of a 2.5 billion rand ($180 million, 165 million euros) subsidy. The intention was to ease the financial burden of higher education on poorer families, but this did not appease the students who continued protesting.
The violence has forced some universities to close, disrupting the completion of the academic year. The University of the Western Cape in Cape Town has chosen to cancel all face-to-face lectures and to continue all academic work through the internet. It said the students could decide to sit for their end of the year examinations next month or in January.
Subry Govender contributed to this report