On February 6, 2019, authorities reportedly violently clashed with students from the University of the Witwatersrand (Wits), the University of Johannesburg (UJ), and Central Johannesburg College (CJC) during a protest march. At least one student was injured during the clashes.
Students at universities across South Africa have been holding protests over financial assistance and accommodation, among other issues, since February 4. Much of the movement has reportedly been led by a student wing of the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), a South African political group. Reports indicate that protests have been marked by violence, including clashes between students and security forces.
On February 6, a large group of students from Wits, UJ, and CJC, reportedly led by EFF student leaders, participated in a protest march across Johannesburg. The protest march was reportedly peaceful until the group arrived at the entrance of UJ’s Auckland Park Kingsway campus where they were confronted by private security guards. Students clashed with private and state security officers, who were also on the scene. Students, reportedly threw stones at the guards, who then fired teargas at the students. One student was reportedly injured and treated by paramedics.
Scholars at Risk is concerned about violence during a student 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.