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South African students march as Zuma holds talks

23 October 2015, 14:47

Pretoria - Thousands of South African students marched Friday to the seat of government in Pretoria, where President Jacob Zuma met student leaders and university officials after several days of growing protests.

Campuses around the country have been closed over the last week as students demonstrated against proposed fee rises that they say will mean poorer black youths are unable to attend university.

The issue of education fees has ignited widespread frustration over lack of opportunities for young people since the end of apartheid in 1994, worsened by a weakening economy and high unemployment.

The presidency said Zuma welcomed the protests outside the Union Buildings, the former seat of the apartheid government and where Nelson Mandela was inaugurated as president when white-minority rule fell.

"A proposed increase in university fees has angered students, given the financial difficulties faced by students from poor households," his office said in a statement.

"The president will use the meeting to gain a first-hand account from students."

It added that universities set their fees independently, in an apparent attempt to steer criticism away from the African National Congress (ANC) government that has ruled since 1994.

"The government thinks we are playing, they think it's because we want to run away from school," Kgotsi Genge, a 22-year-old student at the University of Pretoria, told AFP at the protest in the capital.

"But we will keep fighting. South Africa needs to invest more in education. This movement is because we are being oppressed."

Earlier this week, hundreds of students stormed through the gates outside parliament in Cape Town as police used stun grenades to protect the national assembly.

Protests have also erupted in Cape Town, Johannesburg, University of Fort Hare in Eastern Cape province and several other provincial cities.

Fees were set to rise up to 10 percent next year, with a general Bachelor of Arts degree at the University of Cape Town (UCT) currently costing 46,000 rand ($3,400).

On Friday morning, riot police in Pretoria stood watch over students who were prevented from massing directly outside the Union Buildings by high fences.

Many protesters demanded that Zuma address the crowd later in the day as crowd numbers swelled.

University activism has been increasing this year as students -- many of them so-called "born frees" who did not experience the struggle against apartheid -- vent their anger over continuing racial inequality in South Africa.

Protests over education have a strong resonance in the country, where the Soweto uprisings in 1976 against Afrikaans-language lessons were brutally suppressed by police.

Earlier this year, students at UCT led a high-profile and successful campaign for the removal of a statue of British imperialist Cecil John Rhodes from the campus.

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