Private security set to remain on campus indefinitely

By Naledi Mashishi

Private security personnel are set to remain at Wits University indefinitely as the institution says it has no immediate plans to remove them.

The guards, who have been outsourced from Johannesburg-based security company, Diligence Services Group, have been on Wits campuses since the first week of February after fees-related protest action started on February 4, and have remained at the university for almost two weeks after the protests ended on February 7.

“The University assesses the national and local higher education context and deploys security accordingly. As the need for the security personnel diminishes, so will their presence on campus be reduced,” said Buhle Zuma, Wits University spokesperson.

Wits Student Representative Council (SRC) deputy president Nkateko Muloiwa says that the SRC’s stance is that the university must remove all private security that is on campus.
“We don’t want private security to stay on campus and we have relayed that to management,” Muloiwa told Wits Vuvuzela.

He says that by continuing to keep private security on campus, “it is quite clear that [the university management] somehow want to provoke students and they’ve embarked on wasteful expenditure.”
According to their website, Diligence Services Group has provided private security to Wits University during student protests over the last three years.

In a testimonial published on their website, Wits director of protection services Mokgawa Kobe wrote that, “The company was very instrumental in assisting the university to manage the protest actions since January 2016.”

Students ended their protest action after Wits management agreed to allow some students with historical debt to register.

FEATURED IMAGE:  Private security personnel block protesters.
Photo: Phumi Ramalepe


Students complain of sexual harassment

Students on campus are signing a petition against alleged sexual harassment by private security.

DON'T TOUCH: Private security personnel on campus are accused of sexually harassing students. Photo: Michelle Gumede

DON’T TOUCH: Private security personnel on campus are accused of sexually harassing students. Photo: Michelle Gumede


Over 500 Wits students are signing a petition against the alleged sexual harassment by private security on campus hired to provide “operational control” in the face of fees protests.

“Wits University ought to be free space where females need not to worry about their safety,” says third-year BA student Mpho Ndaba, who started the petition.

The petition aims to raise awareness about sexual harassment on campus. Ndaba says the more female students he has spoken to, the more he realised that the harassment was being normalised.

According to Ndaba, students are not reporting these incidents because they think it’s normal or okay.

One of the students complaining, fourth-year BADA student Swankie Mafoko, says she was verbally harassed by the private security while she was reporting for VOW FM. Mafoko says she was inside Solomon House, when some security guards dressed in black and red came and stood behind her. The men started making sexual remarks about her body in a demeaning way.

She says she wasn’t bothered at first because she is used to catcalling at taxi ranks and other public spaces but she was shocked at the intensity of these guys’ remarks.

“What shocked me was when they were describing my breasts,” says Mafoko.

She says she was so shaken that she put on her denim jacket to cover her breasts and she immediately left without finishing her reporting.

“I panicked and walked away,” Mafoko says.

Mafoko says she did not report her incident because she didn’t see them and she doesn’t believe she can prove her victimisation.

“You can’t prove that kind of harassment on video, it’s my word against theirs,” Mafoko says.

Maria Wanyane, of the Wits Gender Equity office, says they have not received any official complaints about sexual harassment by private security so far.

Private security, who are mainly male, have been stationed on campus since October 2015 at a cost of nearly R2-million per month.

According to the Wits Gender Equity Office, sexual harassment doesn’t have to be physical. It can be any unwanted attention which can include heckling, whistling and catcalling.

“It’s important for everyone who has experienced any form of harassment to come forward and report it,” says Wanyane.

Wanyane says even if someone is harassed on campus by someone they don’t know, the unit has the power to view security footage and assist in identifying alleged perpetrators.


The O’week special

O- Week was a blast for first timers and a bittersweet treat for returning students. While many students were still struggling to pay for fees and accommodation; res students moved in, the Flea market rolled into town, clubs and societies were canvasing for members, Vowfm kept students nay naying with awesome jams and the beer garden was a haven for anyone looking to let loose. Witsies did not let the presence of private security from enjoying O-week.

Wits academics affirm right to protest in response to threat of action

HIRED FORCE: The university hired private security in riot gear to evict protesting FeesMustFall students. Photo: Michelle Gumede

HIRED FORCE: The university hired private security in riot gear to evict protesting FeesMustFall students. Photo: Michelle Gumede

by Masego Panyane and Michelle Gumede

Academics have responded strongly to the statement issued by Wits stating that they should respect security protocols as laid out by private security companies or risk facing the chop.

Last week Wits issued a statement to staff members warning them about violating “security protocols” related to fees protests with possible termination.

“Some staff members have also tried to breach security protocols. We want to remind staff that the decision to bring additional security onto campus is an executive decision and that any member of staff who violates the University’s security protocols will be jeopardising the safety and security of our campus and thereby violating their own conditions of service,” read the statement.

The Academic Staff Association of Wits University (Asawu) released a statement saying academics are allowed to protest but “this right to protest is not, however, unfettered.” The conditions are stipulated by the Regulation of Gatherings Act.

According to the statement, protests no larger than 15 people do not require prior permission while those with 16 or more participants do require it. However, an exception to this rule can be made for “spontaneous protest”.

“Its very spontaneity is a defense against liability for failing to give prior notice and seeking prior permission,” reads the statement.


The union has also shown displeasure at the amount of security personnel on campus that has been called in to stop the  protesting students. It highlights in its statement that some institutions received orders from the government to increase the security on its campuses during this registration period. Asawu says it is concerned  by the apparent interference of the government in tertiary institutions and that this threatens autonomy and academic freedom of universities.

Asawu has called for patience and understanding of its members and students during this time saying: “Patience, understanding and tolerance is going to be required as will our unstinting commitment to non-violence, academic freedom and the autonomy of our institution as we work together as academics, students and broader society to realize our shared vision of access to free education.”

Asawu’s statement also follows an open letter sent to academics by  Vice Chancellor Adam Habib that he wrote to the academic staff who have complained about the use of private security in response to fees protests this month.

“The current strategy of shutting down the university is, in our view, detrimental to the task of building a transformed and academically excellent institution,” wrote Habib.

The open letter addresses issues such as the consequences of postponement of registration, protecting the rights of all and what Habib said was “complacency” of some regarding violence or the threat of it within protests.

“I will never remain silent and allow a culture of violence and ungovernability to prevail within an institution of learning. I will never remain silent when a university and its learning project is being sacrificed to broader political goals, however attractive they may be,” Habib wrote in the letter.

The Anthropology Department’s Dr Kelly Gillespie was a part of a group of academics who took to Facebook to voice their displeasure, accusing the university of “very good at spinning image” while bringing heavy-handed security guards onto campus.

“As far as we know, never in the history of the university has this type of securitisation been used on campus. Even during the darkest days of the apartheid regime, the university was maintained as a space for the free expression of protest, ideas and critique. Habib thus goes down in history as the VC to bring down this kind of disproportionate repressive security detail onto the space of our campus. Nothing he says can take that fact away. No amount of resuscitation of his anti-apartheid history will obscure it. It will always mark his history at Wits,” Gillespie wrote.






Academic staff respond to presence of private security on campus

Following the presence of private security on campus during the #FeesMustFall2016 protests, concerned members of the Wits Academic staff community wrote a plea to Vice Chancellor Adam Habib to request that he to terminate the university’s contracts with these companies. The statement is re-produced below in full:

Dear academic colleagues

We are writing to ask for you to take a moment to respond to a grave threat that has been issued against academic staff at Wits University in Johannesburg: a threat which sets a worrying trend for times to come for all of us who teach at universities.

The backdrop is the militarisation of our university in the last few days in response to student protest. Private security forces which by appearance earn the label paramilitary have been brought onto our campus under undisclosed contracts and terms of engagement, in order to quell the sorts of protests that led successfully last year to a national agreement not to increase student fees for 2016. The South African student movement continues to fight for a fully publicly funded higher education system, but this year their planned protests have been pre-empted by the extraordinary act of using paramilitary forces to prevent disruption of the start of the academic year. We attach a few photos here to give an indication of what this means for the conduct of our everyday lives on our own university campus. We now work in a condition of occupation.

To come to the point of this request: on Friday this week the university sent an email that included a warning to staff that any resistance to the dictates of these private security forces amounts to a violation of our own terms of employment. This is a thinly veiled threat to discipline and potentially fire academic staff who refuse to recognise the authority of private security forces on the grounds of what still remains a public institution. This is a disgraceful act of intimidation against the rights of staff to peacefully protest the current structure of higher education in South Africa, as well as the occupation of our campus by paramilitary forces that, in at least one case — the company TSU Africa — have direct links to the repressive apparatus of the discredited apartheid regime.

Before the other materials mentioned, I copy below a statement that has been posted on social media, addressing South African colleagues. I urge you to read it, and if you are in agreement, to send an email of protest to our Vice-Chancellor, Prof. Adam Habib, at the address Please ask him (a) to rescind this threat against our colleagues, (b) to remove all private security forces from our campus, and (c) to enter into earnest negotiations with relevant parties to see how the university community can offer a united front in the struggle for a publicly funded higher education system in South Africa. Please also circulate this email to other colleagues who might be supportive.

Your solidarity at this difficult time is one of the most important assets we have at our disposal. Concerned academic staff are meeting in the coming week on campus and we may also ask you to sign a petition on this issue. In the meantime, your personal intervention by writing a short message to our Vice Chancellor would be a most welcome contribution to the attempt to de-escalate this gravely worrying moment.

With many thanks to for your solidarity.

Concerned Wits faculty and staff

The Vice Chancellor on behalf of the university’s executive has since responded to this plea. See the response here