Demilitarise learning institutions

Durban University of Technology (DUT) EFF student members protesting the killing of student Mlungisi Madonsela during conflict with campus security on Tuesday.
Durban University of Technology (DUT) EFF student members protesting the killing of student Mlungisi Madonsela during conflict with campus security on Tuesday.
Image: JACKIE CLAUSEN

Guns have no place on the premises of any institution of learning.

Even during protests, lives should be under real threat for law enforcement agencies to have any justification for using live ammunition.

The Tuesday killing of a Durban University of Technology student during what appears to have been clashes between campus security and a group of protesters once again highlights the urgent need to de-militarise our institutions of higher learning by removing heavily armed guards and policemen from campuses.

Protests and class boycotts are a common feature of student lives across the world. Whether in the so-called developed world or developing countries, university students are prone to challenge authority and force society to confront its shortcomings.

But only in countries with deficient or nonexistent democratic systems do you find such protests often resulting in blood-letting and other forms of violence.

SA is a thriving democracy where the right to protest is constitutionally guaranteed. Yet we still have protesters being shot down. If it is not by the police, it is by trigger-happy and ill-trained security guards.

Why private security guards, whose job is to protect students and the university's property, are allowed to carry guns with live ammunition on campus beats us.

Students are not criminals, they go to university with the aim of furthering their knowledge and securing themselves a better future. Even when they take to the streets, it is mostly with the aim of being heard, rather than that of causing havoc.

But a militaristic approach to such protests by security and the police often causes the tensions to boil over into physical violence.

The deceased student's life would have been spared had DUT, and other institutions of higher learning, banned lethal weapons from being used to quell protests.

We have a long history of violence emanating from decades of national oppression. It is time, 25 years after gaining freedom, we turn our backs on that history.

A key step towards doing that is for those in authority to demilitarise their responses to protests and for demonstrators to engage in peaceful protests.

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