On January 29, 2019, students at the University of KwaZulu-Natal’s (UKZN) Westville campus reportedly burned a campus security office amid nationwide protests against student debt.
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. That day, protests at several campuses, including one UKZN campus (see report), led to violent clashes between students, campus security personnel, and police.
At approximately 1:00 AM on January 29, several hundred students carrying stones and petrol bombs reportedly approached UKZN Westville’s main security control center. Security personnel reportedly evacuated the building and contacted local police units. Students then reportedly proceeded to set the building on fire, causing extensive damage.
Local police immediately opened an investigation into public violence and arson in connection to the incident. As of this report, no arrests have been made.
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.