Crowd control remains in the jurisdiction of the state and Public Order Policing and not private security – report.

A RESEARCH report by the Private Security Industry Regulatory Authority (PSiRA) has found that private security companies acted illegally during the #FeesMustFall protests in 2015/2016.

The illegal activities detailed in the report, released at the end of March and titled Barriers for Control: The private security industry and student protests in South Africa, included the deployment of bouncers to deal with student protesters, private security personnel assuming policing functions, and the use of paintball guns, water cannons and shotguns with rubber bullets.

The report found that these incidents “ran the risk of escalating the violence because they [private security officials] do not understand crowd dynamics”.

Authored by Margaret W. Gichanga, a researcher at PSiRA, the report found: “Legally, the private security sector has no prerogative to carry out security functions typically understood as having a crowd control nature.”

According to the Regulation of Gatherings Act No. 205 of 1993, “All assemblies, gatherings, meetings and demonstrations are classified as crowd management incidents and require the deployment of officers from the Public Order Policing Units.”

The #FeesMustFall protests garnered media attention in 2015 after Wits students called for fee-free higher education in the country.

One of the incidents analysed in the report took place at Wits in October 2016, “when stones were thrown by students and, in retaliation, private security officers threw the stones back, the private security manager [in the incident] withdrew from his supervisory role out of fear and was not available to give any direction”.

In response to the report, Vice-Chancellor Professor Adam Habib told Wits Vuvuzela: “[During the #FeesMustFall protest], there was a comprehensive police presence on campus, protest action was managed by the cops and private security was responsible for protection of infrastructure and buildings.

“It is a consequence of a service delivery failure. If the state and its institutions played their role, then there would be no need for the deployment of private security,” Habib said.

#FeesMustFall activist and former student leader Fasiha Hassan recalls the presence of private security on campus as being “harsh, brutal and particularly heavy handed”.

The research, funded by the regulatory authority of private security companies, which has 8 607 registered and active security service providers, sought input from crowd management legislation and interviews with police and security personnel at universities to understand the role of private security in protest action in 2015 and 2016.

The report found “the reliance on state apparatus [police] for the provision of security presents many challenges”, including response to security threats, where private security officers are “quick to act as first responders because they have a permanent presence on campus”, while the SAPS is not directly involved in securing university campuses.

“What do we prioritise under threat? The security of citizens or the formality of rules?” Habib asked.

The report concludes with recommendations for PSiRA to consider prescribing qualifications that are “applicable to student protest environments”, and to provide guidance on the recognition of those qualifications.

FEATURED IMAGE: Wits University students sprayed with teargas during a #FeesMustFall protest in September 2016.