R2 million per month – Max Price for Fascism at UCT?
In the wake of the massive student and worker demonstrations during the height FeesMustFall and EndOutsourcing across the country and specifically at the University of Cape Town (UCT) we have witnessed police on a campus that had once famously taken a position on their presence during the Apartheid era. After general public outcry and a severe backlash from the student protests the university was forced to take heed of the request to keep the police of the campuses.
The unfortunate reality about this moment is that it is also taking place at a time when neo-liberalism has all but consumed South African public institutions. This is manifested through the decision by the university executive to respond to continued disruptive protests by replacing the public order police and existing campus security with additional private security in militarised and reinforced unmarked vehicles, purportedly to observe and “protect” the university and its processes.
In an earlier communication, arising indirectly as a response to a public debate with the rationale provided by Vice Chancellor Adam Habib (http://www.dailymaverick.co.za/article/2016-01-18-adam-habib-an-open-letter-to-colleagues-critical-of-campus-safety-and-security-arrangements/) and a response critiquing his account (http://www.dailymaverick.co.za/opinionista/2016-01-19-in-response-to-adam-habib-privatesecuritymustfall/#.Vp6uJpN96Rs), the university executive at UCT contributed to the debate by releasing a public statement (http://www.uct.ac.za/dailynews/archives/?id=9551) that not only did not engage with the central causes of concern with respect to the implementation and accountability of private security but it went as far as to admit that it did not have frameworks or guidelines to steer its implementation. The university, while casually admitting this, demonstrated that it took severe and costly decisions that have set a precedent for the future of other institutions without engaging in public debate or meaningfully reaching out to the spread of stakeholders at the institution. The university now shows early signs wanting to develop such a framework post-haste while not having properly accounted and taken responsibility for its anti-democratic behaviour during its eagerness to participate in a nationally coordinated repression of the bourgeoning student movements.
On the 5th of February a peaceful demonstration calling for an end to academic and financial exclusions was met with 4 unmarked vehicles loaded with exceptionally tall men wearing uncoordinated unmarked shirts, some of which filtered into the crowd, and proceeded to actively deny that they were private security when engaged with by protestors. After being questioned, accessed of unlawful behaviour and subsequently photographed they admitted that they had lied but would not provide the demonstrators with information on which company they belong to nor who their superiors or accountable officers were or how they could be reached – In fact in one altercation one of the men proceeded to become visibly aggressive after told the protesters to “be nice and let it go”.
Thereafter different sets of men in unmarked shirts continued to survey the space but refused to account to their identity or mandate. The campus protection security (CPS) refused to help and asserted we must speak to “UCT”, the protestors were referred to Director of Property and Services Andre Theys who also refused to provide any assistance. Finally the students were tasked to contact one of the Deputy Vice Chancellors, Francis Peterson, who was unreachable through his office and unresponsive via email. After an engagement with the Deputy Vice Chancellor for Transformation, Anwar Mall, the issue had then been listed as an agenda item to be discussed several days later. From this exercise it was painstakingly clear that there is either no clear line of accountability exists, beyond the fickle availability of detached administrators, or that the existing channels of accountability were denied to the demonstrators for politically motivated reasons that must be accounted for. It was particularly telling that none of the UCT staff, including the acting head of Student Affairs, nor campus security could account for the presence or identity of these persons and refused to comment on whether they even where security.
In reflecting on the decision making and context under which the various universities decided to turn towards private security we must begin to interrogate the ways in which the institutions through statements by Vice Chancellors and Deputy Vice Chancellors have begun to denounce and defame the social movements with frequent mass communiques and opinion pieces to overpower the reach of the largely digital based movements. The anti-violence rhetoric pushed by the establishments has ironically laid the ground work for mass political repression of the fees and anti-labour brokering movements that, especially in the case of Wits have led to institution-backed violence against protesters. Part and parcel of this institution backed violence is the rise of surveillance measures and propaganda campaigns to paint the protesters as an out of control violent group capable of “acts” that warrant inflammatory spending, such as UCT’s R2million per month private security.
As a by-product of the university management’s decision to closed its doors, so to speak, by refusing to continue dialogue with protestors till their demands for “order” are met they are safe to alienate the protesting groups from university community through their internal mass media manipulation and avoid direct engagement with the students through use of their private “plain clothes” militia. The university’s carefully thought out counter offensive against the social movements, upon closer analysis, is familiar – it’s fascist.
After responding to the pressure of the questions raised on the 5th of February, UCT responded in its third comment on private security (http://www.uct.ac.za/dailynews/?id=9569) with a damning indictment of RhodesMustFall that helped to pad the anti-democratic, un-transparent implementation of private security endorsed by the university executive. In this communique three companies are listed: G4S (who provide Campus Protection Services); Sonday Investments (who provide additional campus protection officers); Vetus Scola Protection Services (who provide additional back-up in serious instances where crowd control may be necessary).
Now with the battle against G4S having been won through the university’s commitment to phase in the practice of insourcing the introduction of an additional two private security firms into the UCT landscape also demonstrate a curious misunderstanding of the principles that informed the anti-labour brokering movement. Safety and security, established through developing a community that is accountable to the needs of the collective and the individuals it comprises of, are among the crucial benefits of insourcing these workers who are presently alienated from the very context under which they are expected. This alienation has arguably been disturbed by the waves of student-worker demonstrations that have seen visible solidarity between campus security and the protesters, which in part is perhaps the reasoning behind the university seeking additional support – they potentially do not trust the soon-to-be insourced workers to perform their repressive tasks to their satisfaction.
In fact the now confirmed company, Vetus Scola Protection Services, was mentioned in NUMSA’s memorandum to Eskom on Medupi on 19th October 2013, notably with the demand “ESKOM must immediately terminate the contract of the Vetus Schola security company which employs Congolese mercenaries to traumatize and intimidate workers and establish meaningful safety and security for workers” ( http://www.politicsweb.co.za/politics/numsas-memorandum-to-eskom-on-medupi). This information appears somewhat coherently with the sightings of large men in reinforced vehicles as shown in the images above. This is consistent with the long history of divide and rule employed by the white power structure to pit black people against one another to neutralise and misdirect a tension that is rooted in their own involvement. It is precisely this kind of news, in combination with the convoluted and structurally flawed channels of accountability that create conditions of mayhem between protesters and private security – and one can almost be certain that this is on the horizon.
The silence and frank inability for the campus management to even respond to outcries of sexual harrasment both verbal, on all campuses, and physical particularly on UWC campus with the involvement of Vetus Schola speaks volumes to the ways in which the university, knowingly, acquires patriarchal power for hire with no intention of taking accountability – as evidence of their wholesale absence of strategy to address these consistent features of their repressive actions. In an article once again responding to Adam Habib earlier this year activist, HeJin Kim rightly raises these important points in more detail in her essay: “The entitlement that private security forces have shown in terms of the women bodies, trans bodies, non-binary bodies is a perpetuation of the entitlement that cis men act on daily in South Africa.”.
There is an incredibly diabolical element to the decision to choose to hire private militia that are in very many ways divorced from the political struggles at a local level of the university. They are in no way plugged into the university structures – in fact they operate from command units that function separately to the campus security at total discretion of the executive – the “client”. Remember, crucially without guidelines that have been developed by the community they are purportedly accountable to. Where does this leave groups that these particular executive members wish to repress? Who oversees their decision making? If a violent confrontation were to take place, who even knows who to contact directly? How were these tenders handled and based on what criteria?
These are questions whose answers are particularly important for the students and workers who are to be waging resistance against the devolving fascist university management. We are now party to a system that has a central committee empowered to be the judge, jury and the police.
The emerging construction of the student protester developed and shaped by the statements issued by Deputy Vice Chancellor Francis Peterson mark a turning point in the ways in which the university will deal with certain kinds of movements. One would be naïve not to notice the sharpening clamp down on the student protesters at UCT in the public space with the withdrawal from Vice Chancellor Max Price from the line of fire – especially in the context of a racially charged campus politick. As we recall with the British Empire, indirect rule as a colonial strategy proved most effectively – I don’t doubt it will continue to be so.
We should be mindful of the fear mongering through the battery of public emails of violent students are not only decontextualized from the reality of the situation but many are also inflammatory accounts of events he, himself was not even present for. We should also be concerned that these authority figures would go as far as to publicly lie about the conduct of their hired private militia on campus, as seen in the photographs above numerous guards appeared in assorted clothing items and refused to provide any form of identification – some purporting to be working “under cover” as private security, which is surely unlawful and notably absent from the Petersen’s addresses.
As we prepare for the attempted death kernel of repression to these movements based at the universities we should pay careful attention to the disintegration into centralised fascist security industrial complexes that will see our universities and our country become even taller ivory towers further fitted with modern surveillance and defenses.
It is clearly going to be a long time before the gates of learning are open for all.
R2 million per month is the price of fascism at UCT.