South African Minister Says Student Protests are ‘Irresponsible’

(Bloomberg) -- South African Higher Education Minister Blade Nzimande said students protesting university fees should stop violence and instead work with a government-appointed commission of inquiry into the system.

“There’s a commission and they have been consulted, they are being irresponsible,” Nzimande said in an interview Thursday on Johannesburg-based Talk Radio 702. “There’s a creeping dangerous culture of entitlement and abuse of the democratic right to protest.”

The government disagrees with some protesters’ demands for free education for all and instead wants to drop fees for poor students in the long term, Nzimande said. On Monday, he recommended that universities decide their own fees for next year, with increases capped at 8 percent while students from households earning less than 600,000 rand ($44,500) a year will get subsidies. That will mean no fee increases for 70 to 75 percent of students, Nzimande said.

Universities this week suspended classes and closed campuses as violence erupted between police and students protesting fee increases. Police fired rubber bullets, stun grenades and tear gas at stone-throwing students at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg.

“Even if people are angry, nothing justifies endangering the careers and the future of our young people,” Nzimande said. “We are a democracy, we’ve got ways of expressing ourselves.”

President Jacob Zuma last year put fee increases for 2016 on hold following weeks of student protests, and in January established a committee to evaluate the viability of free education.