Campuses nationwide including the University of Cape Town, the University of KwaZulu-Natal and the University of Pretoria have all been hit by violence, arson and closures.
The wave of protests was triggered by a government announcement that universities would set their own fee increases but that next year’s hikes could be as high as eight percent.
University authorities had vowed to re-open the campus on Tuesday, with vice-chancellor Adam Habib warning of the “immense consequences of not finishing the academic year”.
He said most students wanted to return to lectures, adding that police and security staff would ensure lectures would go ahead, and no mass protests would be allowed to gather.
“The university wants to arrest us, instead of listening to us,” said 21-year-old Patrick Shabalala, a third-year law student, amid repeated clashes outside Wits’ Great Hall auditorium.
“We are not criminals. We want to study and not end up paying endless students loans from the government. That is why we are striking.”
As police opened fire and protesters threw rocks, television footage showed several minor injuries to students and police.