Why were bullets shot at students? Tough questions need answering
Following the death of a student at a Durban protest, the finger-pointing and calls for accountability have begun
Final-year Durban University of Technology (DUT) student Mlungisi Madonsela, 20, died on Tuesday fighting for free education.
He was allegedly shot during a scuffle with security at the Steve Biko campus.
Tragically, one of the issues Madonsela was protesting related to student safety and insourced security at the university.
Two security guards were questioned by the police until the early hours of Wednesday after Madonsela was shot in the scuffle between security personnel and members of the EFF Student Command.
DUT vice-chancellor Thandwa Mthembu on Wednesday addressed the media during a press conference at Coastlands Hotel in Umhlanga. He said there had been a call to the central command of the security establishment that the security personnel on the ground were being attacked with bricks.
“And then a number of these senior officials who carry guns then went to Open House, and that’s when the shooting took place,” said Mthembu.
He said only six of the 250 security personnel at the university carried guns to secure the perimeter where there had been muggings and other crimes at night.
“The great majority of our security personnel do not carry guns because we understand that when it comes to our students there is no need to carry guns.
“It so happened on Tuesday that, because of not having enough people who are well-trained – for example, members of the public order police – everybody was called in to help with the difficult situation we were facing.
“We did not expect that the security officers that are responsible for perimeter guarding would also find themselves involved. So we say we condemn the use of live ammunition on students simply because we had not envisaged that this would happen.
“Our system is not organised in terms of the security personnel on the ground. They don’t carry any guns,” said Mthembu.
He said unlike other universities that were secluded and well-gated, DUT campuses were based in the city and that meant the university was porous.
“The university itself will be doing its own investigation around these circumstances [the death of the student]. Of course, we do understand there may be all sorts of challenges doing that because we have to work closely with SAPS in this matter. We will make our own investigation around the responsibility that the security company has to take.”
On Monday the EFF-led SRC handed over a memorandum of demands relating to registration, Nsfas funding, residence security and safety to Mthembu.
Mthembu said he had immediately called several meetings, including with the SRC, in reaction to the acceptance of the memorandum and the ensuing protests in a bid to resolve the impassé.
Another meeting was held on Wednesday morning in the presence of a department of higher education representative, where the university was given a comprehensive report of what happened on Tuesday.
The university will be closed and has suspended its academic programme pending the investigation.
Meanwhile, the parliamentary portfolio committee on higher education and training plans to haul security companies working at tertiary institutions to parliament.
In a statement issued on Wednesday, chairperson Connie September said the committee would confer with the portfolio committee on police to investigate security companies’ capacity to control crowds and to determine if these companies overstepped their mandate in relation to the powers and responsibilities of the police.
September said the committee would ask private security companies to appear before parliament to account for their actions.
“The committee calls upon 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 warzones in this new democracy, and the committee welcomes initiatives to engage students to find solutions.”
Students who protested at DUT said they felt unsafe after Madonsela’s death.
“What transpired yesterday is a pity because these [security guards] are the people who are supposed to be protecting us,” said Sanele Zikhali, a third-year student at the university.
“We have a lot of questions for the department that is supposed to look after us as students people need to account [for what happened],” added Zikhali.
Some students and members of the EFFSC held placards with the name of the security guard believed to be responsible for the student’s death, calling for his head.
“We want this person who kills students,” they chanted.
Mlebuka Hlengwa, the chairperson of the EFF in the eThekwini region, alleged Mandonsela’s murder and the arrest of several EFFSC members afterwards was a plot by an “ANC-aligned” university management.
“We feel that this incident here is not just a coincidence but something that was preplanned by the management of DUT,” said Hlengwa.
Police spokesperson Colonel Thembeka Mbele wasn’t able to comment on the arrests of the EFFSC members. She confirmed two guards were “interviewed” about the shooting.