On February 12, 2019, police violently clashed with students during a protest at the Western Cape College of Nursing (WCCN), a college of Cape Peninsula University of Technology. Police arrested 21 students on charges of “public violence” in connection with the protest.
For over a week, students have been protesting a range of issues, including water shortages, campus security, and the unresolved death of a student on campus in 2018. Officials at WCCN had reportedly issued a ban on student protests due to security concerns.
On February 12, more than 100 students gathered at the WCCN campus to continue protests. Early that morning some student protesters reportedly blocked the campus entrance with rocks and other materials, and overturned vehicles. Reports indicate that some students threw stones at police, instigating violent clashes between the two groups. Police reportedly fired rubber bullets and stun grenades at students in an apparent effort to disperse them.
As of this report, students arrested for their alleged participation in violent activities have been released on bail.
Scholars at Risk is concerned about violence during a student protest. While state authorities have a right to maintain security and order, they must do so in ways that minimizes the risk of 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 force and violent expressive activities undermine institutional autonomy and democratic society generally.