JOHANNESBURG — The death of a South African university worker who was hospitalized after a student protest has deepened tensions over unrest roiling campuses across the nation.
The government on Tuesday called for an investigation, saying protesters were responsible for the death last week at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, which has suspended classes because of demonstrations for free education.
The cleaner died several days after being affected by a fire extinguisher that protesters sprayed in a residence building, said the university, also known as Wits. Blade Nzimande, the education minister, criticized the university for failing to immediately report the death and he identified the worker as a member of a private security company.
Several South African universities have suspended classes because of clashes between police and students as well as arson and other vandalism on campuses, and some warned they might not be able to complete the academic year if unrest persists. The University of Cape Town said it can’t hold graduation ceremonies this year and that there could be “severe consequences” because of lost teaching days if classes do not resume next Monday.
The protests, which are opposed by some students who want to study, echo larger demonstrations in 2015 that forced the government to suspend university fee increases this year. Demonstrations picked up again after the government said universities can increase fees by up to 8 percent next year, although it will pay about $180 million to cover the costs of poor students in 2017.
Wits University said it will survey students and staff this week to see if they want to start classes again on Monday.
“We cannot lose the academic year,” the university said in a statement.
The University of KwaZulu-Natal said classes were being held on its campuses on Tuesday without disruption. On Monday, it reported incidents of vandalism and intimidation by protesters, including the smearing of excrement on a university building, at its campus in Pietermaritzburg.
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