“We’ve had two occasions now where private security has simply gone outside of the responsibilities that we have agreed to with them,” UJ vice chancellor Ihron Rensburg said.
Rensburg said it was the duty of private security guards, together with the normal university protection services, to provide “cover” at university security gates and to prevent access to those gates.
“Their responsibility is to make no contact with students. Their responsibility is to work together with the university protection services in the first instance, to secure gates. So where there is a risk of students storming through the gate and students, with non-students of the university, storming through the gates.
Rensburg also said that it was unacceptable for private security to throw rocks back at students.
“Yes, rocks were thrown at them but there is absolutely no basis, absolutely no reason in our view, in my view, for them to pick up rocks and throw it back at students.” he said.
“That is not what we expect of these private security. And that is non-negotiable. At the same time, indiscriminately, pepper spray was used … And I’m deeply saddened that journalists were at the same time pepper sprayed. I’m told not just by accident but, pepper-sprayed.”
Fidelity, the private security company in question, however denies that it gives instructions to attack or target the media or students.
Problems related to the use of private security companies on university campuses are neither new, nor restricted to Johannesburg-based universities.
Last month, private security guards reportedly raided a UKZN residence in Westville.
And in February, UKZN students who had joined a workers’ strike in solidarity with workers on campus, also complained about the presence of private security guards.
Days later, students clashed with private security guards, who they accused of opening fire on students with live ammunition. The university, however, denied the claim.
In May, students at the Vaal University of Technology protested against the use of the private Mafoko Security on campus, which they have accused of colluding with criminals.
Private security has become a feature of campus security but it’s unclear exactly how much these services cost the institutions.
In February, Wits University’s student paper Vuvuzela, filed a Promotion of Access to Information request, to find out how much the university was spending on private security.
The paper had noted an increase in the number of private security guards on campus – of anywhere between 10 and 200 additional guards – since October 2015. Student journalists established that Wits had spent about R2-million a month on additional security, since that time.
Onlookers have questioned the training and proficiency of private security in protest situations.
Dr Johan Burger, a researcher in the Governance, Crime and Justice Division of the Institute of Security Studies told the Daily Vox that in may cases, private security on campus is “the first line of defence” as there are simply too many universities for police to maintain a presence there and to police other events and protests at the same time.
“But of course, one could question the way in which they conduct themselves sometimes and you can ask all those relevant questions. Are they really qualified to perform crowd control?” he asked.
Burger says stricter regulation of the private security industry is urgently required. “Certainly, there needs to be much better control of the private security industry,” he said.