On February 22, 2018, private security guards reportedly used violence, including shooting rubber bullets and tear gas, against students participating in a peaceful demonstration at the Durban University of Technology (DUT) in South Africa.
Students protested gathered on campus to protest a 6-week suspension of classes due to an ongoing strike by university staff, including lecturers. The strike started in January 2018 as a consequence of a dispute with DUT management over salary increases; it remains ongoing as of this report.
The protest began as students marched towards the office of Professor Thandwa Zizwe Mthembu, Vice-Chancellor and Principal of DUT, to deliver a memorandum expressing their complaints and demanding the dispute be resolved and classes resume. Private security forces, who had been protecting Mthembu’s office since the beginning of the staff strike, reportedly responded by firing rubber bullets and tear gas to disperse the students. Some of the students nevertheless succeeded in delivering the memorandum to Mthembu’s office.
One of the students, also South African Students’ Congress spokesperson at DUT, Yamkela Zamisa, was allegedly assaulted by a security guard. Miss. Zamisa reportedly said that a security guard chased after her, shot her with a rubber bullet on the backside, and hit her with his firearm three times in the chest. Miss Zamisza was hospitalized as a result. She reported the assault to the local police station, and a police spokesperson has indicated that an assault case was opened. As of this report, no arrest has been made.
Scholars at Risk is concerned about the use of violence on campus by private security forces to retaliate and prevent peaceful student expression. University authorities have a responsibility not to interfere with the rights of academic freedom, freedom of expression and freedom of assembly, so long as they are exercised peacefully and responsibly. In addition to the harm to the immediate victims, violent retaliation against campus protest undermines academic freedom, institutional autonomy, freedom of expression, freedom of assembly, and harms democratic society generally.