On February 3, 2020, violence broke out amidst protests on the University of KwaZulu-Natal’s (UKZN) Edgewood and Howard campuses.
Starting on January 27, 2020, students at UKZN and a number of other South African universities have held protests demanding increased student funding, the cancellation of students’ historical debt, and the enrollment of students that have historical debt. A number of these protests have been the site of intense, violent clashes between security forces and students.
During protests on February 3, students reportedly blockaded the entrance to the UKZN Edgewood campus. Police reportedly fired rubber bullets at students who were armed with sticks and rocks. One student was allegedly shot and hospitalized. Police officials allege that protesters attempted to attack a security vehicle and the dining hall with petrol bombs, and assaulted a security guard who had been hospitalized for his injuries. At UKZN’s Howard campus, protesters reportedly burned an HIV support center, almost entirely destroying the structure. Unconfirmed reports indicate that buildings and property on various UKZN campuses were burned the following day.
On February 4, UKZN reportedly suspended classes on the Edgewood campus after ordering students to vacate.
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 right to maintain order and security on campus, they also have a responsibility 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. Violence, including the use of force and physically violent forms of expression, during a campus protest undermines institutional autonomy and democratic society generally.