On July 5, 2021, police fired stun grenades at Central University of Technology (CUT) students protesting the university’s failure to pay students their allowances through the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS). Two students were arrested.
On July 3, SABC News reported that CUT students were struggling to pay for university accommodations, food, and transportation after not receiving their NSFAS allowances for July. Students told SABC News that some students had been evicted from their accommodations due to late payments and were forced to return home. In response to student complaints, the university released a statement promising to process outstanding payments.
On the evening of July 4, students gathered to hold a night vigil on the university’s Bloemfontein campus. Some students slept outside on campus, stating that they had been evicted from their dorms. On July 5, police arrived on campus to enforce COVID-19 protocols as students continued their protest. Video shows police and students engaging in peaceful conversation, and students peacefully chanting slogans while holding posters in protest.
Nevertheless, police reportedly fired stun grenades, and according to one student, rubber bullets, to disperse the students. Two students were arrested for allegedly breaching COVID-19 regulations included in South Africa’s National Disaster Management Act. Following the protests, CUT suspended academic activities for a week.
Scholars at Risk is concerned about police violence and arrests in response to the peaceful exercise of the right to freedom of expression and freedom of assembly — conduct that is protected by international human rights instruments including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which South Africa is a party. State authorities have an obligation to ensure the security of higher education communities and to refrain from violent or disproportionate actions in response to peaceful campus protests. In addition to the harm to the immediate victims, such actions undermine academic freedom and democratic society generally.