On February 25, 2020, police reportedly violently clashed with University of Fort Hare (UFH) students during a campus protest.
Beginning on January 27, 2020, students from a number of South African universities have held protests to demand increased student funding, the cancellation of students’ historical debt, and that students carrying debt be permitted to enroll. Several of the protests have led to violent clashes between students and authorities and the destruction of campus property.
UFH students allege that over 3,000 students have been barred from the school’s Alice and East London campuses for unpaid registration fees. On February 25, students reportedly blocked the entrance to the Alice campus with burning tires. Police reportedly clashed with students in various locations on campus. During the clashes, a truck was reportedly looted. UKZN officials allege students chased faculty out of their offices and subsequently suspended academic activity.
On February 26, police reportedly arrested eleven students for allegedly throwing stones at police and damaging campus property.
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 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.