Security personnel seen at Wits University's Solomon Mahlangu house, February 6 2019. Picture: ALON SKUY
Security personnel seen at Wits University's Solomon Mahlangu house, February 6 2019. Picture: ALON SKUY

Parliament will summon private security companies to explain their actions in quelling student protests, following the death of a student at the Durban University of Technology (DUT) on Tuesday.

Several campuses have faced student protests since the start of the year, including Unisa, the University of KwaZulu-Natal, and Wits University, with varying degrees of disruption and violence.

Students have been protesting over being prevented from registering if they owe universities significant debt, the slow pace of registration, and a shortage of accommodation.

On Monday, the DUT closed its campuses ahead of planned student protests. Police said on Tuesday that a student had been shot during a confrontation between protesters and security guards, but it was not clear at that stage where the shot came from, according to a TimesLIVE report. The student has since been identified as Mlungisi Madonsela.

The chair of parliament’s portfolio committee on higher education Connie September has called for a thorough investigation into the student’s death, and said parliament will ask private security companies to account for their actions. 

“The private security regulatory body should also investigate improved methods of controlling students when they protest on campuses,” she said, adding that the committee will confer with the portfolio committee on police to determine whether security companies have the capacity to control crowds and whether they are over-stepping their mandate in relation to the powers and responsibilities of the police.

September said the use of force to control protesting students must stop. “The committee calls on university councils, the department of higher education and training, and all student bodies to seek solutions in a manner that will allow a peaceful settlement. University campuses cannot become war zones in this new democracy.” 

Proper training

The National Student Movement said it was concerned that staff working for private security companies are not properly trained to deal with protests. It called on the higher education minister Naledi Pandor to ensure that students are able to fully realise the government’s promise of free higher education for those from poor and working-class families, saying that a year after that policy was implemented students are still fighting against financial exclusion.  

The UDM’s youth movement called on Pandor to intervene in the protests at other institutions before the situation deteriorated.

“The DUT fatal shooting is one of many incidents propelled by the lack of urgency displayed by the education department and government in resolving, not just issues at institutions of learning, but service delivery in our society at large,” it said.

Pandor issued a statement expressing dismay at the death of  Madonsela. She said she would comment further once the investigation was completed but urged university management to exert every effort to resolve student concerns. She repeated that the ministry and the department are ready to assist institutions.

Earlier this week she urged students to focus on their studies and resist calls to shut down university campuses, warning that severe disruption to the academic programme could jeopardise their chances of graduating.

kahnt@businessive.co.za