SAR’s Academic Freedom Monitoring Project investigates and reports attacks on higher education with the aim of raising awareness, generating advocacy, and increasing protection for scholars, students, and academic communities. Learn more.

Date of Incident: March 09, 2021

Attack Types: Killings, Violence, Disappearances | Imprisonment

Institution(s):University of Witwatersrand

Region & Country:Southern Africa | South Africa

New or Ongoing:New Incident

On March 9, 2021, South African police reportedly used force against students participating in a protest at the University of Witwatersrand (Wits) and arrested one student.

On March 8, Wits announced that it would begin its 2021 academic year mostly online after registering 35,000 students. The following day, the Student Representative Council (SRC) organized a protest on campus condemning the alleged exclusion of 6,000 students from registering due to historical debt and calling on Wits to allow students who owe up to 150,000 rand ($9,850) in tuition fees to be allowed to register. Wits students reportedly protested on campus and blockaded a main road near campus with burning tires. Police reportedly responded by firing rubber bullets at students to disperse the students, and arresting one student, Awande Nzimande, who was reportedly released on bail later that day.

Scholars at Risk is concerned about the use of violence and arrest in response to the nonviolent exercise of the rights to freedom of expression and freedom of assembly — conduct that is expressly protected by international human rights instruments including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights, to which South Africa is a party. State authorities have an obligation to refrain from restricting student-led protests, so long as they are nonviolent and responsible. In addition to the harm to the immediate victims, such actions undermine academic freedom and democratic society generally.