Police and security companies’ involvement in student protests come under scrutiny
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Cape Town - The involvement of the police and private security companies during student protests at tertiary institutions came under the scrutiny of Parliament on Friday.
This happened when a joint meeting was convened by the higher education and police portfolio committee with the police, the private security sector and higher education stakeholders, among others.
The meeting was held days after Parliament was briefed on the readiness of tertiary institutions for the beginning of the 2022 academic year.
National Assembly committee on higher education chairperson Nompendulo Mkhatshwa said they have seen over the years an increase in student protests at tertiary institutions across the country.
“What is fundamental is the infrastructure damages but also, in terms of how we manage student protects as the police, vice-chancellors, students, police and private security companies.
“We would like to get to a point where student protest and protests in general in South Africa, is mediated, negotiated and resolved in a way that actually reflects a democratic South Africa and all of us need to take responsibility to ensure that takes place,” she said.
Briefing the committee, Higher Education Department director-general Nkosinathi Sishi said a number of issues led to the protests, including challenges around student funding, student debt and delays to confirm appeals made for rejected applications.
He said Minister Higher Education, Science and Technology Blade Nzimande commissioned further study on violence and framework on gender-based violence (GBV) at tertiary institutions.
However, Sishi said they strongly condemned any violence during student protests.
“We commit to this committee to do everything in our power to ensure perpetrators of violence, whether within our institutions or establishments, have no place to hide.”
Sishi listed some of the long-term solutions to the problems, including strengthening interactions between institutions and the National Student Financial Aid Scheme to disburse funds on time.
Deputy Minister of Police Cassel Mathale said there was a need to inter-face between his department and the tertiary institutions, organised labour and student leadership.
“All role-players have a role to play and should do so responsibly. Students are justified to exercise their constitutional right but they must do so within the law,” Mathale said.
Private Security Industry Regulatory Authority’s (Psira) Sabelo Gumedze said they found in a study conducted in 2019 that a number of tertiary institutions constantly faced student protests.
“Police usually delay in responding to these violent protests thus making universities contract private security companies.
“Quite a number of security companies are engaged in crowd control, which is beyond their scope of security service,” Gumedze said.
He also said crowd control was a monopoly of the police and the security companies were not equipped to control crowds.
Gumedze said they also found that tertiary institutions were not well versed with Psira requirements for the use of security companies.
“When protests become violent, they get into the space of police and act as if they are police officers.
“This does not mean they engage in crowd management.”
Gumedze also said that some of the security companies were not registered with their Psira.
“We do encourage compliance to ensure that higher education institutions are aware of Psira regulations and code of conduct,” he said.
Universities South Africa’s Sibusiso Chalufu said there was a serious need to rethink their strategies and approaches.
“We are of the view that we need to rethink our engagement strategies on the whole notion of dealing with student issues. Some of the issues are raised year in year and year out,” he said.
Chalufu said there was a need to be proactive in dealing with issues and try to resolve them before they reached crisis situation.
“We need to address systemic issues in systemic way,” he said.
South African Union of Students president Lulu Ndzoyiya said the police presence on campus perpetuated student protests into violent action.
“Management sometimes run away from engagements, use security companies to disengage with students and as a result that leads to violence,” Ndzoyiya said.