However, the destruction of property and infrastructure, and intimidation and assault of people – in pursuit of whatever objective – is unlawful and cannot be justified, regardless of the legitimacy of the cause.

In turn, the Constitution requires the state to respect, protect, promote and fulfil the rights in the Bill of Rights. This includes students’ right to protest in a peaceful manner, but also the right to further education, “which the state, through reasonable measures, must make progressively available and accessible”. Any response by the government to these demonstrations must be measured and considered with due regard for the aforementioned and other fundamental rights.

Violence and intimidation will not result in solutions – not for the students and not for the government or relevant institutions of higher learning. As a nation, we need to address the questions of equal access to quality education, as well as multilingualism and diversity in context of education. We have to do so in a constructive manner and in terms of the constitutional values – including that of dignity, equality and non-racialism – which underlie our society founded on human rights and fundamental freedoms for all.

By Adv Johan Kruger, Director: Centre for Constitutional Rights