South African police on Wednesday fired stun grenades to disperse student protesters outside parliament as the finance minister delivered a speech warning of the country’s weakening economy.
Pravin Gordhan cut the 2016 growth forecast sharply from 0.9 percent to 0.5 percent as South Africa struggles with political uncertainty, violent university protests and high unemployment.
Students and police have clashed regularly on campuses nationwide in recent weeks during protests against rising tuition fees, and Gordhan used his mid-term budget speech to pledge more money for universities.
But he also delivered grim news over the economy, with South Africa facing the prospect of a damaging ratings downgrade to junk status later this year.
“Our economic growth will be just 0.5 per cent this year, rising to 1.7 percent in 2017,” Gordhan told parliament in Cape Town.
“It is not just that our economic outlook is distressed, and there is the possibility of downgrades in credit ratings.
“Much more disturbing, and more difficult, is the rise in our own communities of anger and discontent, spilling over into violence and destructive protests.”
Gordhan is at the centre of a political power struggle after vowing to cut down on corruption and excessive spending, leading him to clash with loyalists of President Jacob Zuma.
Next week Gordhan, who enjoys wide-ranging popular support in South Africa, is due to appear in court on corruption charges that he has said are a politically-motivated attempt to oust him.
As riot police fought with about 2,000 protesters outside the national assembly building, Gordhan announced an extra 17 billion rand ($1.2 billion) of funding for university students.
Violent demonstrations by students in Johannesburg, Cape Town and elsewhere have forced many universities to close temporarily.
“Many students face financial hardships that undermine their ability to succeed academically,” Gordhan said.
“We will do everything that is possible to regain normality on our campuses. We want the violence to stop.”
Ahead of his court appearance, Gordhan’s cause has also attracted backing from Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa, some ministers and scores of business leaders.
Zuma said Tuesday that he had not acted to stop the prosecution because interfering would drive the country “closer to a banana republic”.