SAR’s Academic Freedom Monitoring Project investigates and reports attacks on higher education with the aim of raising awareness, generating advocacy, and increasing protection for scholars, students, and academic communities. Learn more.

Date of Incident: September 02, 2019

Attack Types: Killings, Violence, Disappearances

Institution(s):Nelson Mandela University

Region & Country:Southern Africa | South Africa

New or Ongoing:New Incident

On September 2, 2019, violence erupted between student demonstrators, campus security, and police during a protest against safety conditions at Nelson Mandela University (NMU).

Students had been raising concerns about safety on campus in response to reports of robberies and violence. According to a student leader quoted in one source, university officials allegedly committed to taking action by September 1; however, it is unclear what preventative actions, if any, the university had taken.

On September 2, during an early morning protest led by the Economic Freedom Fighters, a South African political party with a large student body among its supporters, students reportedly blocked access to NMU’s south campus. According to one source, campus security responded by firing paint balls at them while police fired rubber bullets and lobbed stun grenades. Protesters retreated and barricaded behind a fence on campus, where they then reportedly launched projectiles at security forces.

Police arrested seven students in connection with the protest and held them in custody until the next day.

The university ordered academic activities suspended the day following the protest.

Scholars at Risk is concerned about violence during a campus protest. While students have a right to freedom of expression and freedom of assembly, they also have a responsibility to exercise those rights peacefully and responsibly. State authorities likewise have a responsibility to ensure that their actions are not disproportionate, do not harm members of the campus community, and are not undertaken to restrict or retaliate against peaceful expressive activity. Such incidents endanger the campus community and undermine institutional autonomy.