On August 13, 2018, police and campus security clashed with University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN) students protesting living conditions at student residence halls. Police reportedly arrested 17 students for “public violence,” in connection with the protest, and the university closed the campus temporarily.
UKZN-Westville students organized the protest raise residence hall concerns related to safety; lack of water, electricity, and wifi; meal allowances; and other living conditions. Students living in the residence halls have shared images of the conditions on Twitter, showing ripped up ceilings and walls, broken appliances, and water damage. One week prior, on August 8, UKZN-Westville students and police clashed violently during a similar campus protest over financial allowances, shuttle service timetables, and residence hall concerns.
At the August 13 protest, as many as 300 students gathered on campus, held posters, and spoke out about their concerns; some students, however, reportedly blocked roads leading into the campus and disrupted classes. Shortly thereafter, approximately fifty riot police officers arrived on the campus in armoured vehicles and confronted the protesting students. Some student protesters threw stones at police and allegedly damaged police vehicles. Police reportedly fired stun grenades and rubber bullets at the crowd of protesting students, and arrested 17 students on charges of “public violence.” The status of the students, including whether they have been released or scheduled court dates, is unknown as of this report.
Following the protest, UKZN officials suspended classes at the Westville campus until Friday, August 17.
Scholars at Risk is concerned about violent clashes between state and campus security officials and students during a campus protest. While state and university authorities have a legitimate interest in maintaining order, they must do so in ways that are proportional to the situation, minimize the risk of physical injury, and otherwise respect institutional autonomy, academic freedom, and other applicable human rights standards. Likewise, while students have a right to protest and otherwise engage in on-campus expression, that does not include violence or destruction of property. In addition to the harm to the immediate victims, such incidents undermine academic freedom, institutional autonomy, and democratic society generally.