By Michelle Gumede and Masego Panyane

The number of private security on Wits university’s campuses have reached unprecedented levels with security occupying almost every corner of campus at exorbitant prices. 

HIGH COST OF SECURITY: Wits University has been paying an average of R2 million per month for private security. Photo: Michelle Gumede

HIGH COST OF SECURITY: Wits University has been paying an average of R2 million per month for private security. Photo: Michelle Gumede

Wits University has revealed that it has spent an average of R2 million a month on additional security services since October last year. Responding to a Protection of Access to Information Act (PAIA) request that Wits Vuvuzela sent on January 15, the university, through registrar Carol Crosley, also revealed that there are three security companies that have been used by the intitution, namely Fidelity Security Service, Diligence Security Services, and TSU Security Services.

Since last year October, Wits University has been occuppied by anything from 10 to 200 private security officers daily “depending on the risk”, according to Crosley. The extra muscle has been hired to protect infrastructure and students in response to the #FeesMustFall protests. The University said some of the costs  have been covered by the 2015 budget but a shortfall will have to be covered by savings which the University  will need to make  from the 2016 budget.

“The University is aware of the significant cost of the additional security. However, the cost of losing a life, of  potential harm to people, of malicious damage to property, and of losing the 2015 and 2016 academic years, by far outweighs the amount spent on additional security during this period”, Crosley said. Crosley has also said that the amount provided is not the full and final amount as the university is still negotiating discounts with the security companies and insurers to cover some costs.

Crosley added that the security companies employed by Wits had been “asked to make contributions towards student bursaries and food security programmes at the University”. It is unclear if these contributions have began.

Earlier today, the university’s senior executive team said in a statement that it intended to “deploy a strong security contingent” on the campus and along bus routes in response to incidents over the past two days.

The PAIA Request
The Protection of Access to Information Act of 2000 is a way to access information that is held by the state or  a public body and is not generally accessible. The information requested is usually used to protect and exercise any right. It is a way to promote transparency and accountability. According to the Right2Know campaign’s Carina Conradie, the campaign has repeatedly seen the ways in which the Promotion of Access to Information Act is used to curtail the free flow of information rather than provide access in the way it is intended. While this law is good on paper, it is the implementation that we see failing us. “The PAIA request  is essential for not only the students, workers and staff affected by the private security on campus, but for all of us to hold the university, as a public body, accountable for the way in which spending is being prioritised during this critical time in tertiary education. This is especially important in the light of the claims made both by the universities and the Department of Higher Education that the reasons students’ and workers’ demands cannot be met is that they do not have the funding for it”, Conradie said.