Hundreds of students demanding free education have clashed with police in renewed violence at South Africa’s top university in Johannesburg after it attempted to reopen following recent unrest. Police used tear gas, rubber bullets, stun grenades and water cannon to disperse stone-throwing protesters at Witwatersrand University, also known as Wits. Blade Nzimande, the country’s education minister, appealed for dialogue and condemned the violence, saying the university’s efforts to run its academic programme were being “held to ransom by irresponsible and disrespectful striking students”. Two arrests were made and minor injuries reported, according to a statement by the university. “The students started throwing sizeable rocks that could have maimed or killed people,” Wits said in a statement after trying to reopen on Monday.
Chaos started with protesters moving through science and mathematics buildings, seeking to disrupt classes. Libraries and a large laboratory were empty. Later, there were tense exchanges. As police helicopters circled, some protesters spilled into city streets. A bus was set on fire, and thick smoke billowed into the air. Thato Mokoena, one of the student leaders, called on the university management to stop “militarisation” of the campus. “The university needs to start realising that every day we have security and police, every day we have violence. Every other day when they are not here, everything is OK. So I think there should be a de-militarisation of our campuses,” he said. Police and student protesters also fought on a campus of the University of KwaZulu-Natal in Durban, the African News Agency reported. Unrest was reported at the University of the Free State in Bloemfontein as well.