On March 3, 2020, during a protest on the campus of Cape Peninsula University of Technology (CPUT), students reportedly vandalized university property, as well as property belonging to faculty, leading to a temporary closure of the campus and four arrests.
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.
CPUT students began a protest on March 3 demanding more affordable food on campus, and an expansion of university dormitories to accommodate the needs of the student body. Over the course of several days, protesters reportedly threw stones and bricks at cars belonging to faculty and staff, stoned campus buildings, and set food trucks on fire, leading the university to shut down the campus temporarily on Friday, March 6. Campus operations resumed on Tuesday, March 10. Ultimately, at least seventeen cars and several food trucks were damaged; several windows in an engineering building were also damaged. Four people were reportedly arrested in connection with destruction of property;.
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 these 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.