On July 22, 2019, private security reportedly fired tear gas and rubber bullets at Durban University of Technology (DUT) students during a campus protest.
Roughly 150 students of the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), a political party, and the Student Representative Council gathered on campus planning to deliver a memorandum of demands to DUT Vice-Chancellor Thandwa Mthembu, including unblocking students from university registration, providing students with meal allowances, and increasing student housing. The protesting students reportedly disrupted classes. While on their way to deliver the memorandum, private security guards reportedly confronted the students and had gated the entrance to the campus where Mthembu’s office was located. Security guards reportedly fired tear gas and rubber bullets at the students to disperse them.
Guards reportedly arrested student leaders Buntu Faku, Nkosinathi Maqutya, Mzamiseni Majozi, and Khanyeze Mbambo, for allegedly disrupting classes. The students were held in Berea police holding cells and faced charges of intimidation and breaching a court order that DUT obtained, barring students from engaging in protests within its campus. On July 24, the students appeared in Durban Magistrate’s Court and pleaded not guilty to the charges. The court released the four students on a warning and scheduled the next hearing to August 21.
Scholars at Risk is concerned about violence against students in apparent retaliation for the nonviolent exercise of the rights to freedom of expression and association –conduct that is expressly protected under international human rights instruments including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which South Africa is a party. University authorities and, by extension, contracted security personnel, have a responsibility not to interfere with these rights and to refrain from the use of force intended to restrict them. Likewise, while students have the right to freedom of expression and freedom of assembly, they have a responsibility to exercise such rights peacefully and responsibly. In addition to the harm to the immediate victims, such actions undermine academic freedom, institutional autonomy, and democratic society generally.