On August 30, 2016, student protesters set fire to buildings on the Pietermaritzburg campus of the University of KwaZulu-Natal (KZN), damaging an examination hall as well as a campus coffee shop.
The protests occurred during a period of tension at universities throughout South Africa, as demonstrations associated with the “Fees Must Fall” student movement — which opposes high tuition fees and racial discrimination on South African campuses — have been ongoing in various forms since October 2015.
According to reports, the property destruction on the KZN campus began after university authorities refused to agree to protesters’ demands, including that certain students be allowed to sit on the university’s executive management committee, and that criminal charges against students accused of damaging university property be dropped.
Scholars at Risk is concerned about arson and other forms of damage to university property. While student protesters have the right to free expression, that right must be exercised in a manner consistent with university values including non-violence and social responsibility. Destruction of university property creates unnecessary risk of injury to members of the community, encroaches upon students’ ability to learn, and harms university autonomy.