On February 18, 2019, police violently clashed with student protesters at Mangosuthu University of Technology (MUT).
The protest was part of a series of demonstrations at universities across South Africa that began in early February. Protesters have raised a number of common concerns over fees, financial assistance, and accommodation, among other issues.
Reports indicate that as many as eighty students participated in the MUT protest. Photos and video show many protesters in shirts and hats marked with logos of the Economic Freedom Fighters, a left-wing political party in South Africa. It is unclear, who organized the protest.
Some protesters reportedly blockaded the entrance to the campus, overturned a vehicle, and threw stones and bricks at police. Police reportedly fired tear gas and rubber bullets, and arrested at least five protesters for “public violence.”
Following the protest, MUT’s administration suspended classes and asked students to vacate the university. It is unclear when the university will reopen.
Scholars at Risk is concerned about violence during a student protest. 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. Likewise, while state authorities have a right to maintain security and order on campus, they must do so in ways that minimize injury or harm to individuals and that respect institutional autonomy and human rights. In addition to the harm to the immediate victims, student violence and the use of violent force by security forces undermine institutional autonomy and democratic society generally.