On January 27, 2020, violent clashes broke out between student protesters and security personnel at the University of KwaZulu-Natal’s (UKZN) Howard College campus.
Students at UKZN and a number of other South African universities engaged in a day of striking and protests demanding increased student funding, the cancellation of students’ historical debt, and the enrollment of students that have historical debt. Sources indicate that the strike and protests were in response to a call put out by the South African Union of Students.
Details regarding the protest on the Howard College campus are limited. One report by East Coast Radio stated that a group of masked protesters disrupted student registration procedures taking place on campus. Additional available sources indicate that student protesters and security personnel engaged in running battles. Eventually, students reportedly threw rocks at security personnel, while police fired tear gas and rubber bullets in return.
Police detained at least four individuals by the end of the protest. It is unclear whether those detained are current UKZN students.
Reports indicate that UKZN has cancelled activities on campus, including student orientation, until further notice.
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 their rights peacefully and responsibly. Likewise, while police have a responsibility to maintain order and security, they also have a responsibility to to ensure that their response is proportionate to the situation, and to refrain from actions that restrict or retaliate against expressive activity or that endanger the campus community. Violent clashes during a campus protest undermine institutional autonomy and democratic society generally.