On November 4, 2019, police fired live ammunition at students protesting unpaid student allowances at Southern Africa Nazarene University (SANU), injuring a student.
Beginning in August 2019, students have held protests, seeking payment of allowances for student accommodations and books. In September, the government announced that it would double the monthly allowance allotted to students, and that it would be completed in thirty days. After allowance payments were not made within that time frame, SANU students began a boycott on October 31. The unpaid allowances have reportedly affected dozens of students’ access to education; without them, students cannot pay for housing and textbooks, and effectively cannot continue their studies.
During the November 4 protest, students reportedly blocked the road to the university and set fires near the campus. In response, the SANU administration closed the university indefinitely and ordered the students to vacate the campus. Police, deployed to campus to ensure students vacated the campus, reportedly fired warning shots in the air and fired rubber bullets to disperse students, injuring Phephile Sifundza, a student not participating in the protests, who was shot in the leg.
Scholars at Risk is concerned about violence during a student 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 proportionate, do not harm members of the higher education community, and are not undertaken to restrict or retaliate against peaceful expressive activity. Such incidents undermine academic freedom and democratic society generally.