The University of Johannesburg has spent up to R15 million on private security services across its four campuses since the Fees Must Fall protests started in October last year.
Vice Chancellor Ihron Rensburg said they had brought in private company Fidelity to quell the sometimes sporadic protests by students demanding free tertiary education.
The university was operating with three units of security personnel – depending on the level of risk.
“We have 200 UJ staff, another 400 that were outsourced – provided by Fidelity – but will be insourced from the first of October. The third part is the crowd controllers, or what the students call bouncers, also brought in by Fidelity,” Rensburg said.
Up to 50 “crowd controllers” were brought in when the level of risk was defined as high, he said.
The university has been on high alert this week, following protests that saw some students try to interrupt lectures and occupy libraries.
“The 400 are not your hard-nosed crowd controllers; they are typically there to observe and report and control access at the gate, so they have a lighter role to play. Universities are not in the business of crowd control. This is why this third unit; we had to bring in people who are allegedly competent in crowd control situation.”
However, the private company Fidelity has come under fierce criticism after several journalists and students were pepper sprayed, and some beaten, outside UJ’s Doornfontein Campus by their guards.
Apology to students and journalists
There were two separate instances where private security guards were recorded physically assaulting students on and off campus after a week of protests.
Rensburg has apologised to students and journalists, saying the incidents were regrettable. He said the university was talking to Fidelity to understand what had happened.
“It is an unconditional apology to the journalists, and obviously students as well, and of course the bystanders. I spoke to some of the journalists – who were still very upset, understandably so – and am stunned at what happened.
“I am equally stunned and disappointed that notwithstanding carefully laid out plans and agreements, that things can go awry so quickly. So, from our point of view, it is my sincere apology and regret.”
Van Rensburg said they needed to beef up security to protect 99% of the students continuing with academic activity.
Tension has heightened at various universities since Higher Education Minister Blade Nzimande announced that poor students would not be slapped with a fee increase but recommended an 8% increase for students whose parents earned more than R600 000 per annum.