On August 17, 2018, police and security guards violently clashed with students participating in a protest at the University of KwaZulu-Natal Westville campus.
Since a previous violent clash on August 13, UKZN students had been on strike over allegations of issues with university residence halls, shuttle services, and administrative mismanagement. On August 17, approximately four hundred UKZN students participated in the protest, during which students reportedly blocked off campus roads with furniture and set a pile of furniture and garbage on fire. The police spokesperson reported that two security guard houses were also set on fire. Police reportedly fired water cannons and teargas at the students to disperse the crowd; students responded by throwing stones back.
Police arrested 12 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. (UKZN had previously been the site of protests over these same issues in August, with violent clashes between students and police on August 8 and August 13.)
Following the protest, university management reported they would resolve the issues and engage with student leadership to find solutions; however students expressed frustration in the lack of administrative response.
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.