On August 20, 2019, students from the University of Fort Hare’s (UFH) Alice campus clashed violently with police during a protest over denied applications for financial aid. Five students were reportedly injured.
One day prior to the clashes, a large group of UFH students reportedly held a meeting on campus to protest student financial aid applications that had been denied. Students further alleged that university officials failed to help students appeal their denied applications. During the meeting, students reportedly demanded that UFH leadership meet with them to discuss the matter. Reports indicate that a meeting with officials had been scheduled for August 23.
The next day, on August 20, students marched to the university’s main gate to continue their protest. According to police and university officials, students blocked a busy road in front of campus and began throwing stones at police cars and other vehicles. Police responded by firing rubber bullets at student protestors, injuring five students. Three students were transferred to a local hospital for medical treatment.
UFH administrators condemned the actions of student protesters, ordered campus activities suspended until September 2, and vowed to take measures to curb violence on campus.
Scholars at Risk is concerned about violence during a campus protest. While students have a right to freedom of expression and freedom of assembly, that right does not extend to violent activity. Similarly, while state authorities have a right to maintain order or security, they have a responsibility to do so in a way that minimizes the risk of injury or harm to individuals and respects institutional autonomy and the rights of protesters. Such incidents threaten the safety of the campus community and undermine institutional autonomy and democratic society generally.