On August 28, 2019, violence erupted between student demonstrators, private security guards, and police during a protest on East Midlands College’s Uitenhage campus.
A group of about two hundred students reportedly gathered on campus to protest a new university attendance policy that they alleged could impact students’ access to financial aid. Police claimed that student protesters attempted to block a road into campus. As conflict between police and student protesters escalated, police reportedly chased, beat, teargassed, and shot rubber bullets at students, while student protesters reportedly threw stones in return. Police claimed that they used minimum force against the students, when they failed to disperse. Eighteen students were reportedly arrested in connection with the protests.
Scholars at Risk is concerned about violence during a student protest. While state authorities have a responsibility to ensure security and order, they should also ensure that their response is proportional to the situation. Likewise, while students and other groups have a right to freedom of expression and freedom of assembly, they must exercise these rights peacefully and responsibly. Violence during a student protest endangers the higher education community and undermines academic freedom and institutional autonomy.