University of Johannesburg under microscope over ‘spying’ on student protesters

The Right2Know Campaign is putting pressure on the University of Johannesburg to come clean about using private security firms to spy on student protesters.

eNCA’s Checkpoint investigative show screened an explosive account on Tuesday of how undercover private security guards were paid to ride on inter-campus buses and covertly gather intelligence on students at UJ.

A guard revealed how he was paid R300 a day to take notes about conversations on the bus and identify the names and faces of protesters.

This story underscores long-held concerns that universities’ use of private security firms during #FeesMustFall-related protests has lacked transparency‚ accountability‚ and often led to serious violations of the rights of students and staff‚” said a statement by the Right2Know Campaign – the activist movement centred on freedom of expression and access to information.

“At UJ in particular there have been numerous reports of assaults‚ threats and intimidation from paid private security. The private security sector lacks democratic accountability; their contracts and terms of engagement are almost always secret‚ and their methods often unlawful.

“More and more‚ as university managements have resorted to private security to militarise campuses‚ they have become accountable only to themselves‚ while putting low-paid workers on the frontline to manage the crisis for them.”

Right2Know has used the Promotion of Access to Information Act to demand details about contracts between UJ and two security companies. It also requested details of intelligence-gathering operations by the university‚ including the use of video footage of meetings.

The university has 30 days to respond to the request for information.

“It is outrageous that basic information about the security arrangements has been kept from the university community‚” said Right2Know.

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