University of Johannesburg (UJ) students were allegedly slapped and punched by private security guards during what they say was a peaceful occupation of the vice chancellor, Ihron Rensburg’s, office in the early hours of Tuesday morning.
“We are being attacked and beaten up by Fidelity bouncers … They’ve been punching and slapping us women around and the guys too,” Anele, a UJ student said in a whatsapp message to the Mail & Guardian at 02.40am on Tuesday.
The students are part of Independent UJ, a student group that is not aligned to any political party and was formed because they believe the student representative council, which is SA Students Congress (Sasco) led, does not accurately represent the majority of the students views. They are demanding that there be no registration fee and an end to the outsourcing of workers, among other things. After seeking advice from a lawyer, the students and workers “occupied the public space of the VC’s office to put pressure on management to listen to our demands”, Mpendulo told the M&G. He said the students were watching movies, studying, singing and dancing. Photos shown to the M&G depict a gathering of about 40 people.
At about midnight, campus security with a group of Fidelity Security guards formed a barrier and started pushing students out of the office. “We said no and they got angry … that’s when the manhandling started.” He said a security guard was the first to “throw a punch”. “They continued kicking and slapping us down the stairs and out of the campus,” he said. Anele showed the M&G photos and videos of the cuts and grazes sustained by some of the students during the fracas. Another student, Thokozisi, said the attack was “unprovoked”.
“The thing that I am most angry about is that they were beating old women and fathers … the workers who were there supporting us”, he said. UJ spokesperson, Herman Esterhuzien, said students were “physically removed” from the office last night but declined to comment on allegations of violence against them. He said there were only 10 students at the gathering and that two of them had resisted the guards. A Tuesday press release by the university stated that “efforts from a small group of ‘independents’ to undermine the authority of the freely elected UJ SRC and the agreements reached with the UJ SRC continues”.
“This cannot be tolerated. The UJ SRC is the duly elected and statutory student body, and will remain our point of reference with regards to students concerns. Again, though I note that in our extensive consultations with the UJ SRC at the end of October, we also included representatives from this group of ‘independents’.”
The students who spoke to the Mail & Guardian asked for their surnames to be left out of this article for fear of further harassment by the university.