As Durban University of Technology (DUT) staff return to work Monday, many have expressed concern about doing so as they fear for their safety in the aftermath of last week’s violent student protests.
They felt the institution’s security company did not have the capacity to protect them.
Last week’s protests resulted in many tertiary institutions around the province shutting down after the violence escalated. DUT student Mlungisi Madonsela was shot dead during an alleged altercation between students and campus security, which resulted in stones being thrown and shots fired. A university employee was also seriously injured during this altercation.
An employee, who did not want to be named as she was not authorised to speak to the media, said: “On Monday (today) we are due back at work and nothing has been said about improving safety in the building. The private campus security (members) are the same who shot a student, and we doubt that they are able to provide adequate protection for staff. We are scared of returning, and we don’t know who to turn to,” she said.
She added that the staff member who had been injured worked in the same building she did and had sustained serious injuries to her head, which required an operation that lasted five hours. She said she was in a critical condition.
She also said staff who worked at Open House annexure building, on the Steve Biko campus, had not received any counselling.
The building houses Student Governance, unions, and the Nursing Department, among others.
Other staff also expressed similar safety concerns. Some said they feared being surrounded by students who were capable of “smashing a woman’s face in” and attacking other people who went to help her.
In response, DUT spokesperson Alan Khan said only administrative staff and Human Resources staff would be working today. He said the institution had made counselling available to staff and students who were traumatised by last week’s events.
Khan said they had talks with the Student Representative Council last week, and it was agreed the institution would open so that students could fix their National Student Financial Aid Scheme issues and accommodation problems.
The academic programme was still suspended, he said. Khan added that safety and security was important to the institution and that the SAPS public order policing unit would be on campus.
Lundi Mgwili, the chief executive of Xcellent Security Services, the private security company at DUT, said they would be extra vigilant of any “strange” gatherings that could lead to conflict.
He said another security company called Strike Force was also on campus to monitor the situation until things had cooled down. “Staff and DUT’s property are in safe hands. We regret the loss of life, and some of our own staff were also traumatised by the shooting. The employees who were close to the shooting will receive trauma counselling,” Mgwili said.
The University of KwaZulu-Natal also shut down its campuses last week. Performances at the Elizabeth Sneddon Theatre, at Howard College campus, were also affected by the protests.
UKZN spokesperson Normah Zondo said the academic programme had been suspended until further notice.
“This is to give space to engage with student leadership,” she said. Management and the student leadership met on Friday, Zondo said, but were not able to reach an agreement.