SECURITY COSTS: Prof Ihron Rensburg of the University of Johannesburg, left, and Prof Adam Habib of Wits during a media briefing at the council chambers on the Kingsway campus of UJ in Auckland Park on Monday. Picture: FREDDY MAVUNDA
SECURITY COSTS: Prof Ihron Rensburg of the University of Johannesburg, left, and Prof Adam Habib of Wits during a media briefing at the council chambers on the Kingsway campus of UJ in Auckland Park on Monday. Picture: FREDDY MAVUNDA

THE funds universities are using to hire private security firms to stave off protesters could go towards helping needy students.

University of Johannesburg (UJ) vice-chancellor Ihron Rensburg said on Monday that some institutions in Gauteng were spending between R1.5m and R2m a month on additional security, which was not sustainable.

This was a small price to pay compared to the value of human lives, while the loss of, say, a 100-year-old library could not be quantified, said Prof Rensburg, speaking at a briefing of Gauteng university vice-chancellors.

"We are spending resources in order to protect life and the facilities and heritage that has been built up in our institutions over decades," he said.

Universities have been increasing security since student protests began in October last year. The UJ and the University of the Witwatersrand (Wits) have hired additional security in the past few weeks.

But universities have come under fire for using private security companies, which have been accused of excessive force against protesting students in the #FeesMustFall campaign.

Wits vice-chancellor Adam Habib, in an open letter on Monday, defended the use of private security and denied that students were assaulted.

The Democratic Alliance’s spokeswoman on higher education, Belinda Bozzoli, described the use of private security firms as extraordinary because all students wanted to do is to study.

Referring to striking university workers’ call for outsourcing to be scrapped, Ms Bozzoli said doing this would cost universities millions that could be spent on students.

On security, Prof Habib later said: "Some may ask why we did not use our own campus security, and the answer is … simple: they are not sufficiently trained for this scale of protest.

"We could bring in a more adequately trained campus security team, but do we truly want a ‘militarised’ campus when this scale of security and protection is not required?"

University of Pretoria Student Representative Council secretary-general Donovan du Plooy said yesterday the council supported the outsourced workers as well as the continued access to campus of those requiring assistance on academic issues or with financial aid.

With Karl Gernetzky