Cape Town 23-11-2015:CPUT riots students who were suposed to write their final exams in Belliviell Campus.Picture Mlondolozi Mbolo reporter Mpumi Kiva

Cape Town - Universities are not taking any chances: they have all contracted private security firms ahead of thousands of students returning for the 2016 academic year.

Last year millions of rands of damages were caused during #FeesMustFall protests.

Stellenbosch University (SU) says beefing up their security was not just a management decision, but was also “aligned with a directive from government”.

UWC estimates that repairs will cost them at least R20 million and CPUT put its costs down at more than R10m.

UCT and SU say they are still weighing up the cost of damages.

Last week the universities said they would not tolerate violent protests. on Tuesday students from all four institutions said there was a strong security presence on campuses.

UCT, Stellenbosch University, UWC and CPUT students said security guards were “placed at key strategic positions”.

At UCT armed men dressed in black trousers and white shirts were seen monitoring students, and at SU students said security guards from different companies were on their campuses

Student movements have raised concern, saying the presence of armed security guards is not only antagonistic but also makes students feel unsafe.

SU and UCT management confirmed they have employed private security guards to prevent disruptions similar to student protests last year.

Rhodes Must Fall member Alex Hotz said it was no surprise that UCT had employed private security.

“Management sent out a very threatening e-mail to warn students that disruptive protests will not be tolerated in 2016.

“Last year we saw how police and these security guards used brutal force on students. We feel unsafe and surely management must know that these private security guards aggravate us,” Hotz said.

UCT spokesperson Elijah Moholola said the private security guards are from a company affiliated to G4S, the service provider responsible for UCT campus protection services.

“They are deployed to examination venues to prevent any disruption and the deployment will continue until the deferred examinations are concluded,” Moholola said.

Open Stellenbosch (OS) confirmed that “men in black” were patrolling around SU campuses on Tuesday.

OS member Simone Cupido said security guards from Vetus Schola Security Services – which is linked to apartheid-era military veterans – are being deployed at the university.

“We experienced abuse at the hands of these guards last year, but we fought back and this year we will do the same,” she said.

SU spokesperson Martin Viljoen said management’s decision to enforce “rather stringent” security measures was not just a decision made by the university, but is also aligned with a directive from government.

“In this regard the university will rather err on the side of being overly cautious.”

Freedom of Expression Institute spokesperson Sheniece Linderboom said the law gives every person the right to assemble with other persons, to express views on any matter freely in public and to enjoy the protection of the state while doing so.

“Although the universities are well within their rights to call upon private security companies to guard against any damage to property and prevent disruptions, it undoubtedly contributes to the antagonism of what should be constructive processes aimed at resolving grievances,” Linderboom said.

Institute for Security Studies chairperson Jakkie Cilliers said: “I don’t think it is a problem unless they (security guards) embark on excessive use of force and instigate violence.”

Meanwhile, Tuesday’s altercation between protesting students and private security guards at Wits University that left four of the guards with minor injuries has both sides crying foul.

Students claim they were manhandled and bruised by overzealous security guards following an overnight picket, while the guards accuse students of striking first, using steel dustbins, sticks, chairs, bottles, bricks and other objects to fight off eviction from the picket area.

As part of the #FeesMustFall movement, a group of about 15 to 20 students occupied Solomon Mahlangu House on Monday night.

This was part of the movement’s ongoing protest to secure free tertiary education for poor students and fight against registration fees and financial exclusion.

The overnight picket was disrupted at around 5.40am on Tuesday as the group was awoken by numerous members of campus control security.

According to one student, who elected not to be named for safety reasons, security members began reading out a notice from deputy vice-chancellor for transformation, human resources and advancement Tawana Kupe, saying they had five minutes to vacate the building.

The student claimed the security guards insisted they sign the notice, but the group said they would not move.

A few minutes later, the security team returned with backup, and “suddenly became aggressive”.

“We tried to explain why we were there. We were not there to fight. Out of the blue, and I honestly mean this, out of the blue, they became aggressive,” she said.

The student said she was fondled and throttled as the guards tried to drag her out of the building, while one of her peers was undressed and her breasts touched in the process.

When asked about the injuries sustained by the security guards, the student said: “If this means that for us to fight for our rights that blood will be shed, it will be shed.”

Meanwhile, a fellow student, Tshepiso Modupe, said: “If someone pushes you, undresses you and touches your boobs, you can’t not react.”

Modupe said the guards were “trying to teach (the students) a lesson”, and that if the administration wanted to speak with them, they should arrive themselves, instead of sending in security teams.

However, the security guards from Fidelity Security Services said they were forced to call for backup after students attacked them while they were trying to move them from the building.

Sitting in a Joburg Emergency Services ambulance, nursing a battered knee and bleeding arm, security guard José Pintarr said there had been no negotiation between guards and students before the violence flared.

His colleague, Thulani Hlongwane, was hit on the head with a bottle, and said two more of his colleagues had been injured while they tried to hold back the students.

While the campus appeared to be quiet for the remainder of the day, dozens of private and campus security guards monitored the premises, preventing anyone from entering Solomon Mahlangu House.

Registrations were postponed until today. The university confirmed the eviction.

[email protected]

Cape Times