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Violent protests not protected by Constitution experts

12 Mar 2023

LAW experts have warned university students against violent protests, saying that these actions could have negative impacts on their academic ambitions. This comes after a series of violent protests at the various institutions in the country including the University of Cape Town, University of KwaZuluNatal, Tshwane University of Technology and the University of the Witwatersrand. Stanley Malematja, a human rights lawyer and protest analyst, said students had the right to protest, however, they must do so within the confines of Section 17 of the Constitution, which requires everyone engaging in a protest to do so peacefully, and without infringing on the rights of others. He said the Constitution states that a violent protest and one where the participants were armed loses the protection of the constitution. He noted that everyone was equal before the law and should be treated equally. "The fact that one is a student does not mean that they are entitled to be exonerated from criminality. When a student is arrested, the processes of the law criminal law and criminal procedure unfolds and every case is treated on its own merits," said Malematja.
Spokesperson for the South African Human Rights Commission Wisani Baloyi noted with concern the continued use of violence during protest actions, citing the Wits university student protest and National Education, Health and Allied Workers Union strike at hospitals. He added that the commission strongly supported the right to access higher education, as well as the right to a living wage. Baloyi said that it supported the actions of students and workers resorting to peaceful protest, and said that access to education was important. He called upon the government and institutions of higher learning to do everything possible to give meaning to the protesting students' right to access further education. Baloyi further reminded everyone of Section 17 of the Constitution and that they should engage with due regard for the rights of others.

Normah Zondo, executive director for corporate relations at the University of KwaZuluNatal, said matters arising from the protesting students were attended to and resolved by management as best as possible, would continue to maintain an open policy on all matters involving students, and are committed to engaging with the student representative council to resolve any challenges. Zondo said that the university accepted peaceful protests within the confines of the law, however, it opposed destruction of property and violence directed at any member of the university community. She said that students found to be contravening the student rules or involved in any alleged misconduct could face charges in accordance with the university policy regarding student misconduct. "Depending on each individual case, student s are called to an internal hearing and if found guilty could face a fine or a fine and exclusion for a particular period, or expulsion. In addition, offences such as arson and public violence are criminal charges that are referred to the state," added Zondo.

Buhle Zuma, senior communications officer at the University of Witwatersrand, said they recognised the right of students to protest peacefully, on condition that it did not infringe on the rights of others to learn, teach and work. Zuma said that sometimes protesting students infringed on the rights of others such as last week's protest in which university rules were transgressed resulting in suspensions. They have had to pivot to blended teaching and learning, which she said was not ideal and impacted on the 36 000 students who wanted to learn and work. She said that the university did not discipline students who protested peacefully. However, when university rules were broken, student code of conduct breached, disruption of university activities, intimidation of others, blocked entrances and damaged property, they are held to account in line with the university's policies. Elijah Moholola, spokesperson for the University of Cape Town, said the university condoned student protests and that the UCT executive reiterated its stance on upholding the right to legitimate protest, but would act against any unlawful activities. He said that students who engaged in unlawful protest action could be subjected to the disciplinary proceedings in line with the university's student handbook.

Source: Sunday Tribune

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