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South African Students Shut Down Universities in #FeesMustFall Protests

They oppose planned tuition hikes at South African universities.

Photo by Twitter user @zintle_d

For more than a week, students all over South Africa have been staging passionate demonstrations at universities to protest planned tuition hikes for the 2016 school year. The protests erupted when University of Witwatersrand officials announced that tuition fees would increase by 10 percent next year, on top of which the university would begin charging students a registration fee of 10,000 rand (about $752). The dissent has since spread to neighboring campuses, including Rhodes University and the University of Cape Town. On Wednesday, they took their march to Parliament, where the police reacted unkindly to the protesters, firing stun guns into the crowds.

Organizing around the the hashtag #FeesMustFall and #NationalShutDown, the students have been rallying to oppose a policy change they say will make higher education inaccessible to poor, and black, students. But they’re not just holding their universities accountable—they’re taking their grievances to the government which, they say, has laid financial waste to South Africa’s universities.

“Increasing government financial aid for poor students will not be enough. A big part of the problem is that government has decreased its subsidies towards students—placing universities in a tough place to increase funds. So they need to go back to the drawing board and revamp the funding model,” said University of Cape Town David Maroba to Quartz.

Photo by Twitter user @SiyaNyulu

The protesters have specifically called out Blade Nzimande, the country’s minister of higher education. Nzimande put forth a proposal to cap the increases at 6 percent, but student leaders rebuffed his attempts to compromise. They demand, instead, free education for the poor.

“Blade, what’s good?” their protests signs read, humorously referencing a popular Nicki Minaj-related meme. The students held a sit-in on parliamentary grounds, hoping to catch the minister’s ear. When Nzimande finally came out to address them, he was met with boos and intimidated by chants of “Zero, zero, zero!”

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