On April 7, 2021, police fired water cannons at students protesting on the Mangosuthu University of Technology (MUT) campus.
Since March 8, students at many South African universities have protested policies that exclude students who owe tuition fees from registering for classes. Some of the protests resulted in violent clashes between police and protesters. At least one person has been killed during the protests.
MUT students protested in front of the university gates on April 7, blocking a highway and the entrance to the university with burning tires and other debris. Police were dispatched to disperse protesters, who continued to block access to the campus and held mattresses, apparently to shield themselves from the police. Eventually, the protesters retreated behind the campus gates. In an apparent effort to remove them from campus, police fired water cannons at protesters who were shielding themselves with mattresses behind the university gates, according to video footage.
No injuries were reported. One student was reportedly arrested for public violence.
Scholars at Risk is concerned about the use of force by police in response to a student protest — conduct that is protected by international human rights instruments including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights Instruments and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which South Africa is a party. While state authorities have a right to maintain public order and safety, they should refrain from the use of force and ensure that their response is proportionate to the situation and does not result in harm to students or other protesters. Likewise, students should refrain from violence in their expressive activities and to respect institutional autonomy. In addition to the harm to the immediate victims, the use of force, especially when intended to restrict student expression, undermines academic freedom and democratic society generally.