21 October 2015 – The African Legal Centre (ALC) strongly condemns the reported use of less-lethal weapons against peaceful student protesters in South Africa. Recent reports reflect the indiscriminate firing of tear gas canisters, stun and flash grenades, and rubber bullets in Cape Town and Port Elizabeth. The ALC reminds law enforcement officials that any use of force must occur only in exceptional circumtances and as a last resort. Peaceful protesters should be protected and their rights to protest must be promoted.
Over the past week, students in South Africa have embarked on peaceful and unarmed protest action (trending on Twitter with the hashtag #FeesMustFall) over proposed tuition fee increases at South African universities. The protests intensified today with a planned National Day of Action and culminated in multiple gatherings throughout the country. It has been reported that earlier this afternoon, multiple tear gas canisters and stun and flash grenades were discharged at South Africa’s Parliament in Cape Town following a request from the students to be addressed by South Africa’s Higher Education Minister, Blaze Nzimande.
Further reports indicate that tear gas and rubber bullets were discharged earlier this morning at the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan Municipality University in Port Elizabeth.
As the protest action intensifies, the ALC urges law enforcement officials to respect and promote the protesting students’ constitutional rights to speak freely, associate and assemble –– provided that such assembly is peaceful and unarmed. To the extent that any law enforcement interventions are necessary, the constitutional rights to life, freedom and security of the person, and fair trial rights must be respected.
The current situation urgently calls for continuous and meaningful dialogue between student leaders, law enforcement officials, university management and government. Students, like anyone else, are entitled to display their discontent and exercise their constitutional rights in the hope for a better future and the ability to access education.
Find out more: #FeesMustFall #NationalShutDown