On January 29, students at the University of KwaZulu-Natal’s (UKZN) Howard campus violently disrupted campus activities and damaged campus and student property.
Prior to the incident, on January 27, students at UKZN and a number of other South African universities staged a strike and held a protest to demand increased student funding, the cancellation of students’ historical debt, and that students carrying debt be permitted to enroll. Protests at UKZN’s Howard campus that day (see report) led to violent clashes between students and campus security personnel.
Student protests on the Howard campus continued for several days. On the morning of January 29, media reports indicate that as many as 1,000 students gathered on campus to disrupt regular campus activities, including course registration. Some students reportedly used a fire extinguisher to disperse students who had gathered to register for courses. Others set fire to garbage bins across campus, and to a parked vehicle belonging to a fellow student. Police reportedly arrested four students for arson.
Scholars at Risk is concerned about the targeted destruction of campus property. 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. The destruction of campus property harms the ability of higher education communities to safely and adequately conduct research, teaching, and other academic activities. State authorities have a responsibility to protect higher education communities, investigate threats, and to hold perpetrators responsible. Such incidents undermine academic freedom, institutional autonomy, and democratic society generally.