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 10, 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 10, 2021, South African police reportedly killed one individual after police fired rubber bullets at a group of University of Witwatersrand (Wits) students participating in a protest.

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. During the March 9 protest, police fired rubber bullets at students and arrested one (see report).

On March 10, students, dressed in yellow, protested just outside of the Wits campus, forming a blockade on one of the streets. Police fired stun grenades and rubber bullets at students, injuring two student journalists; a bystander who was not a part of the protest was reportedly shot and killed by police. In addition, police reportedly arrested three students.

Scholars at Risk is gravely concerned about state authorities’ use of force in an effort to restrict nonviolent student expression, and offers its condolences with the family of the deceased individual and all others impacted by the violence. While state authorities have a right to maintain security and order, they also have an obligation to refrain from restricting or otherwise interfering with the rights to freedom of expression and assembly, so long as they are exercised peacefully and responsibly. Violent force intended to restrict student expression undermines academic freedom, institutional autonomy, and democratic society generally.