On the first day of registration, South African college students protested what they say are exorbitant fees that place unreasonable strain on poor black South African families.
Protesting students shut down registration today at two universities, demanding that administrative fees be dropped. “We want them to scrap registration fees across the entire university," Sarah Mokwebo, one student protestor at the University of Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, told Eye Witness News. "This needs to apply to everyone, whether you have NSFAS or not and if you're too poor to actually pay fees for yourself, including students with bursaries.”
In October, students protested outside South Africa's parliament against the government's proposal to raise university tuition fees by 10 to 12%. One year of undergraduate studies costs between $2,200 and $4,400 at South Africa's top universities, a price that is difficult to pay for most average South Africans–according to a 2013 estimate, 96 percent of South African households earn less than $37,000 per year. In the U.S., by comparison, household incomes are higher (the 2013 median income was $52,250) but a year at a public university can cost roughly between $9,000 and $22,000.
The protesters released a list of demands this morning, including that the government provide a road map toward free higher education for all South African students:
Students at the University of South Africa's Sunnyside campus in Pretoria also shut down registration, reportedly burning rubbish as part of their protest. Protesters said police fired a stun grenade to break up their protest, but a university spokesperson told News24 that teargas was used instead.
The government loan program for students, the National Students Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS), offers some help for the country's registration fees, but like in the U.S., students are struggling to pay back their loans after college. Students have also argued that the means test to be approved for NSFAS is unfair because it doesn't necessarily take into account all the financial demands on families, and leads to people who are actually not wealthy enough to pay their fees outright missing out on financial aid.
Following those protests, the government agreed to freeze tuition fees for 2016, but have not yet announced what next year's fees will look like or whether they will consider students' demands that all university education become fully state-funded. Blade Nzimande, South Africa's Minister of Higher Education, said he will meet with student leaders on Tuesday.
"We would really urge the student leadership that there is no issue that is not for discussion," he told reporters, adding that the government has set aside $418 million for college costs this year. "We have heard all the issues and we are taking steps to address them going forward."