On February 5, 2019, a student was killed by private security personnel during a violent protest at the Durban University of Technology (DUT).
Students on university campuses across South Africa have been holding protests over financial assistance for students since February 4. Reports indicate that the protests have been marked by violence, including students’ destruction of property and clashes with security forces.
On February 5, the second day of protests, some student protesters on the DUT campus reportedly threw bricks and rocks while attempting to storm a university building, injuring a university administrator and a security guard. An altercation then reportedly broke out between student protesters and private security guards, during which at least one security guard opened fire with live ammunition, killing third-year business administration student Mlungisi Madonsela.
Following the incident, DUT officials announced an indefinite suspension of activities and an investigation into the private security force’s response.
Scholars at Risk is concerned about the use of lethal force and student violence during a campus protest. While university authorities and, by extension, contracted security personnel, have a right to maintain security and order on campus, they must do so in ways that minimizes the risk of death, injury, or harm to individuals and that respect institutional autonomy and human rights. Likewise, while students have the right to freedom of expression and freedom of assembly, they have an obligation to refrain from physical violence and to respect institutional autonomy. In addition to the harm to the immediate victims, the use of violent force and violent expressive activities undermine institutional autonomy and democratic society generally.