SAHRC calls for calm and for a commitment by all stakeholders to resolve the current crisis on South African campuses
The South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC, the Commission) notes with concern the growing intensity of student protests and related action at various universities across the country.
Whilst the protests point to underlying and systemic factors that require urgent resolution, the Commission urges all stakeholders to commit to and undertake these efforts in an environment where the best possible outcomes are more likely. Without detracting from or diminishing in anyway the powerful significance of peaceful protest in our country, the Commission condemns protest related action which is destructive and which impacts adversely on others inside and outside universities.
The right to protest should not be exercised with disregard for other rights, such the right to dignity (Section 10), the right to life (Section 11), the right to property (Section 25) and the right to security of the person (Section 12) within the framework of the respect for the rule of law.
The Commission therefore urges the universities and student bodies to restore calm. The Commission as a constitutional body is vigilant about the realisation of the right to education in South Africa. The Constitution protects this right, together with other basic rights. These rights include the right not to be subjected to violence by the state through bodies like the SAPS.
Allegations and scenes of police heavy-handedness need to be addressed as a matter of urgency. Police conduct, public order policing in particular has attracted international scrutiny in recent times. The United Nations Human Rights Committee raised serious concerns about the state of policing in the country, especially during public protests.
The South African Constitution promotes a vision of a human rights compliant policing and the Commission calls on the SAPS to remain cognisant of this vision in exercising their duties with respect to the current protest action across campuses.
Education is a facilitative right, potentially catalysing the realisation of other rights. In the South African context, and within the continent, education is an identified goal in the regions Vision 2060. This recognition is embedded in the recognition that both transformation and development resides on pillars such as education for accelerated success.
All stakeholders working on the concerns expressed by students to secure the realisation of this right must therefore be mindful of this broader commitment and need.
The Commission acknowledges that the need to make tertiary education financially accessible to all has occupied our attention in recent days. However, the Commission cautions that the need for transformation should not be approached in a fragmented way. Models which are adopted must be sustainable and address systemic challenges which continue to hinder the attainment of substantive transformation in higher education.
The Commission intends providing its report on transformation at public universities to the Presidential Commission of Inquiry and other stakeholders to support this process shortly.
Source: Government of South Africa.