JOHANNESBURG ― South African police raided a university student residence in Johannesburg early Sunday, arresting a leader of sometimes violent protests for free education who caused an outcry last year when he declared admiration for Adolf Hitler.
The arrest of Mcebo Dlamini, a former student council president at the University of the Witwatersrand, followed recent clashes between protesters and police that led the university to impose tighter restrictions on access and movement on its campuses at night.
Police confirmed that a 32-year-old man was arrested at a student residence at around 1 a.m. as part of investigations into “recent violence, criminality and acts of intimidation,” but declined to reveal his identity pending his appearance in court.
Protests have roiled many South African universities since last month, leading to dozens of arrests, arson and vandalism as well as the suspension of classes at some institutions. While there is widespread support for the idea of free education, the government says it doesn’t have the funds and many students would rather study than go along with protesters’ calls for disruption.
Still, Dlamini has often delivered fiery speeches to crowds of students who feel the University of the Witwatersrand, a leading university in Africa, is not responsive enough to poor Blacks who struggle to pay school bills. They link the problem to the legacy of white minority rule, whose ending in 1994 brought democracy but failed to lift many in the black majority out of poverty.
Echoing similar protests in 2015, student demonstrations started again after the South African government recommended on Sept. 19 that universities raise 2017 fees by no more than eight percent, but said it would cover next year’s increases for poor students.
On Sunday, about two dozen protesters danced and chanted outside the police station where Dlamini was being held as police in riot gear guarded the entrance. Two students entered to meet Dlamini, who conveyed a typically inflammatory message through them to the throng outside: “Comrades, continue the revolution.”
Dali Mpofu, a lawyer who has assisted student protesters, said on Twitter that he spent an hour with Dlamini at the police station.
Last year, a disciplinary panel at the University of the Witwatersrand found Dlamini guilty of “misconduct” for an unspecified incident in 2014 and he was removed from the Students’ Representative Council.
Also in 2015, the university said Dlamini’s remarks praising Hitler were abhorrent but were protected under the constitutional right to free speech.
Dlamini had posted “I love Adolf HITLER” on Facebook and compared the Nazi regime to Israel. In interviews, Dlamini praised the Nazi leader’s “organizational skills” while also saying there is an “element” of Hitler in White people.
Dlamini was also involved in a fund-raising drive that raised about $140,000 for poor students, South Africa media reported. A recent photograph shows Dlamini at a campus demonstration, wearing a helmet, carrying a plastic shield and brandishing a rock.
Jerome Delay of the Associated Press contributed to this report.