JOHANNESBURG – A warning shot fired by South African police ricocheted and killed a 17-year-old girl who was among a group protesting that a teachers strike had given students insufficient time to prepare for exams, an investigator said Tuesday.
Students marching in the Free State region allegedly threw stones at police officers who had confronted them Monday morning, said Moses Dlamini, a spokesman for an agency that investigates complaints against police.
Dlamini said an officer fired a warning shot toward the ground with a 9 mm pistol, and the bullet ricocheted and then hit Nontsikelelo Anna Nokela in the back. She was pronounced dead upon arrival at the hospital.
The teachers strike was halted Sept. 6, shortly before a series of final exams. There have been protests this week by students across South Africa who said the missed classroom time left them ill-prepared.
Hundreds of students in the Limpopo region also gathered to protest exams Monday. Students threw stones at police, damaging one police vehicle. Police arrested 58 students on charges of malicious damage and public violence.
"They were demonstrating all over," said Moplafela Mojapelo, the provincial spokesman for the police, who said schools had closed for the day. Classes resumed again on Tuesday.
The nearly three-week public civil servant strike crippled not only schools but also public hospitals, and slowed work at the country's courts, passport offices and morgues. Infants had to be evacuated from intensive care units to private hospitals, and army medics and volunteers helped keep public institutions running.
The unions suspended their strike last week so they could consider the government's latest wage hike offer.
South Africa has been hit hard by the global recession, losing 900,000 jobs last year on top of already high unemployment. The government has said it wants to devote funds to creating new jobs, not just raising the salaries of those already working.