Small Group Causes Big Trouble at University
JOHANNESBURG, South Africa (AP) _ Andreas Angelides looked annoyed as he pushed through the chanting, singing protesters who made his Friday computer science class break up early.
″No one should have the right to force anyone to do something,″ said Angelides, 22, as the two dozen black demonstrators moved down the hall.
For the third straight day, the small, radical South African Students Congress (SASCO) disrupted classes at the University of the Witwatersrand.
The posh campus of 19,500 students - 70 percent of them white - was a hotbed of unrest during the height of anti-apartheid activism in the mid 1980s.
Political reforms have now dampened the protest movement, and students, particularly whites, are more interested in good grades so they can compete for jobs in South Africa’s strangled economy.
But black students raised in the culture of protest believe only activism can bring the changes they seek at the white-dominated campus known as Wits.
Such differences permeate education nationwide. Black teachers launched a strike Monday for higher wages, halting classes for 2 million black students in primary and secondary schools.
The white government criticized the strike for denying blacks badly needed classwork, while black groups blamed the strike on the disparity between black and white education under apartheid.
SASCO, which represents a few hundred students, complains black students often cannot afford the high fees and housing costs at Wits. It is calling for a panel representing students, faculty, workers and community leaders to oversee university operations.
Protesters occupied university offices, destroyed records and allegedly assaulted an official on Wednesday, then disrupted classes and tried to storm offices again Thursday.
Police called by university officials clashed with the protesters twice, firing rubber-coated pellets the second time and arresting 134 people.
All but 15 were released Friday and most of the campus appeared serene. But armored police vehicles sat along a main road and protesters marched through several buildings.
One window was broken and several classes were disrupted. SASCO officers and student leaders halted the disruptions, and a rally attended by several hundred students, most of them black, went off without incident.
Most white students appeared uninterested in the demonstrations, and some expressed hostility.
″It’s 200 agitators causing chaos and mayhem,″ said Richard van Breda, 21, a third-year engineering student.
Black student leaders said the university failed to respond adequately to demands pressed in April, forcing them to escalate the protests.
″Financially, students are battling to make it,″ said Linda Vilakazi- Tselane, president of the Student Representative Council. ″Their response was there is no education crisis.″