South African official pledges to fund university students

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Protesting students from the University of the Witwatersrand, form a guard of honour around a forensic pathology vehicle which carries the body of a man shot dead in clashes between students and police in Johannesburg, Wednesday, March 10, 2021. At least one person has died and two students have been injured in clashes between South African university students and police over tuition fees at the University. Protests erupted this week after thousands of students were denied registration for the 2021 academic year because they owed tuition fees from last year. (AP Photo)

JOHANNESBURG (AP) — In an effort to quell violent protests at universities, South Africa’s education minister has vowed to make more money available to enable thousands of students to register for the 2021 academic year.

One man, a bystander, was killed in the protests Wednesday at Johannesburg’s University of the Witwatersrand, adding pressure on the government to resolve the problem.

Throughout the week students have been protesting because thousands of poor students have been prevented from registering due to outstanding fees.

Education Minister Blade Nzimanede said Thursday that the education budget will reallocate funds to ensure that all qualifying students are allowed to register for their studies.

The government pledge comes after Mthokozisi Ntumba, 35, was allegedly shot and killed by the police when they opened fire on protesting students. Ntumba was apparently returning from a clinic in the area when he was caught in the crossfire, according to reports in the local media.

There is widespread outrage over the shooting death of Ntumba, who had recently obtained his master’s degree and was the breadwinner for his wife and three children.

President Cyril Ramaphosa on Thursday said the students’ protests did not warrant the police opening fire, saying Ntumba’s killing “disturbed me deeply.”

“It seems there was overreach by the police. This matter must be investigated and those responsible must be dealt with according to the law,” Ramaphosa told parliament.

Amnesty International has called for South Africa’s police to stop using rubber bullets, which the rights group said are also deadly and can cause long-term injuries.

Police minister Bheki Cele on Thursday visited Ntumba’s family and promised action against the police officials who were responsible for his death.

“It is something that has no inch, no grain of explanation or defence on it. Somebody, for me, just went crazy,” Cele told the press outside Ntumba’s home.

Police investigators on Thursday confirmed they had gathered evidence from the scene to investigate Ntumba’s killing and determine whether police were responsible for his death.

It is unclear how far the recent announcement about funds being made available to allow students to register can quell the spread of further demonstrations. Students from the University of Cape Town are expected to protest on Friday. The University of the Free State has confirmed that at least 20 students were arrested Thursday after clashes with the police outside its campus.

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