At campuses like UKZN PMB, violence is used to force students into submission


    Dr Mari H Engh and Dr Federico Settler, lecturers at the University of Kwazulu Natal, writing in their personal capacity, say the current situation at their campus shows that the claims and concerns of black students are easily dismissed and obscured. 

    The events of the last two days at the UKZN Pietermaritzburg campus are the result of a long and protracted/intermittent stalemate between university administration and student leadership regarding the issue of fees, as well as charges raised against students participating in protest action. On Monday afternoon, a student protest march spilled off campus and onto a suburban road, resulting in SAPS firing teargas and rubber bullets at students and into university residences. On Tuesday morning, following a long night of discussion and deliberation, the students engaged in a peaceful protest, mobilising across campus. On several occasions during the morning, SAPS, private and campus security barred students from entering buildings and parts of campus, shooting teargas and rubber bullets into the crowd.


    After dispersing, students reconvened and resumed their peaceful protest on the main campus lawns – this was when a group of concerned academic and professional staff decided to form a shield between students and SAPS, campus security and private security.

    Throughout the morning, students were frustrated by the fact that their repeated calls for a line of communication to university management were met with silence. Instead, management circulated a statement claiming that all was calm on all campuses and that they had ”beefed up” security. The effect of this “beefing up” was palpable when several police vans, including a Nyala, pulled onto campus. Students reacted with both fear and anger. The strategy, on the part of university management, of “showing strength” and intimidation signalled to students that their concerns were dismissed and that they would be brought “in line” by force.

    Throughout the semester, the university has maintained their strategy – to increase and “beef up” campus security, despite the fact that this has had little effect on resolving the dispute. Similarly, today’s decision to suspend the academic programme and bring the September mid-semester holiday forward by one week, seems little more than a ostrich-like “head in the sand” response. Effectively perpetuating a cycle of violence, intimidation and retribution – all of which undermines the academic programme and safe learning environment. Clearly, a different response is needed.

    Photo credit: Pumelela Nqelenga on Facebook
    Photo credit: Pumelela Nqelenga on Facebook

    A second critical issue relates to the conduct and behaviour of police and security personnel on university campuses. On Tuesday afternoon, at about 15:00, while driving two injured students to a nearby hospital, we witnessed 10+ armed MI7 (private security firm) security personnel, as well as police, chasing unarmed students across and off campus, onto private roads and into private student “digs”. This conduct is most definitely beyond the brief of security personnel – to protect persons and property on campus – yet in contexts where students are framed as violent and dangerous, a certain degree of force is regarded as legitimate and appropriate.

    This type of action signals a particular attitude towards black students, especially at smaller provincial university campuses such as PMB, MUT, UniZulu and WSU, where intimidation and violence are used to force students into submission. All the while demanding that they be grateful for the chance to be at university in the first place. Many students have lamented the fact that the kind of brutality they have experienced would never have been inflicted on their white counterparts in South Africa. Precisely because black students are reported as criminal and violent, their claims and concerns are easily dismissed and obscured – all the hallmarks of a future Marikana?

    Witnessing the enthusiasm and “glee” with which police and security staff enforce the interdict, it is hard not to agree with students’ assertions that this is a level of intimidation and brutality by police and dismissal by university management reserved for black students at provincial campuses.

    Dr Mari H Engh is a postdoctoral researcher in the School of Applied Human Sciences at UKZN, with a specialisation in gender, sport and migration.

    Dr Federico Settler is a lecturer the School of Religion, Philosophy and Classics, UKZN, with expertise in Sociology of Religion and black studies.

    Featured image by Qiniso Mbili


    1. my brothers and sisters are badly injured , some have about 12 bullet scars on their backs n ts very traumatising because it was a peaceful protest, and its so annoying hearing people calling us hooligans yet they have no idea of what really happening, SAPS shoot us inside our rooms, our windows have big holes and the so called Mi7 drag us out of our rooms like we are dogs and take our belongings, we came to study here not to be beaten,our rooms are the safest place we can be but they shoot us inside, even if we are walking just outside the campus, we are being shot, THEY USED A REAL BULLET AND ALSO RAPED OUR SISTERS mnxm!!!!!!

      #mi7 must fall
      #saps must fall
      #8% must fall
      #ukznstudent_lives _matter!!!!!!

    2. Question: how many white university students have engaged in rampant arson, violence, intimidation and disruption on their university campuses?

      • maybe the question how many White university students are affected by the current tertiary education, the dont have to engage in what does not affect them. it is a bit unfair to compare black and white students in the institutions that favours whites.

        • The author made the claim that white students would not be met with such force by police if they did the same thing.

          Clearly she cannot make that claim when white students aren’t partaking in the same acts. Doesn’t matter why those acts are being committed.

    3. Seeing this clip makes me very sad and reading these comments too. I hope that those who work within the field of human sciences at these UKZN campus’s are doing what they can to allow traumatised students some place to come and speak about these events. To all the students who were marching peacefully here, I respect you for your strength of character and peaceful demonstration and I thank you to all students on these campus you have worked so hard to be socially responsible, peaceful students who contribute to the well-being and safety of all.


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