/ 29 September 2016

Journalists get a taste of private security brutality

A security detail in front of the Wits Great Hall. Students and university administrators are at loggerheads over the use of private security guards on campuses in South Africa.
Too big to fail: Eskom boss Phakamani Hadebe will have to present a turnaround strategy. (Delwyn Verasamy)

Some of the worst violence during the student protests has come after dark. On Wednesday evening, journalists trying to cover the mayhem at the University of Johannesburg’s Doornfontein campus were targeted by UJ’s private security personnel.

Journalists had walked from UJ’s Kingsway campus to arrive with students in Doornfontein shortly after 6pm.

The situation became volatile when private security staff kept the entrance shut. When a few students tried to enter, the security staff responded with rocks and pepper spray. A rock battle ensued.

Two journalists were sprayed with pepper, one of them three times, and also hit with a pole in his stomach. A Mail & Guardian colleague was hit on the back with a baton.

Later, a group of journalists were isolated from the police and students. The students had run from the campus to a road above. Police fired rubber bullets and, as protesters dispersed, private security moved in. Their rocks were aimed in our direction. When we shouted that we were journalists, more rocks were thrown.

We jumped over the metal barrier lining the road and ran down an embankment. We entered an enclosure. Soon after, the security staff were standing in the road above us.

“Media! We’re media!” I shouted with my colleagues. We had our hands up.

A man in a light-coloured shirt asked if we were media, and we answered “yes”. He told us to sit down. He said that he had seen journalists “shooting us”, and seemed angry that the security team had been caught on camera.

I held my colleague’s hand and she held me in a tight hug. My head was under her chin so when the security staff sprayed their pepper gas, I barely felt it. When they struck her across the face with a baton, I felt the black rod brush against my head.

The strike left a swollen patch under her eye with the groove marks from the baton left on her skin. We took a photograph of it after the security team left us.

Students have tried to raise the curtain on the brutality of private security and, on Wednesday, journalists got a taste of what they meant.