Open letter to the VC: Dr Jenny Durandt

25 October 2016 | Story by Newsroom

I am disturbed that in the campus announcements from the Vice-Chancellor, he has commented on the assault of two security guards on Wednesday, 19 October, but has said nothing, as far as I can see, about the student assaulted by guards, whose photo was on the front page of the Wednesday Cape Argus for all, including concerned parents, to see.

I have therefore drafted a wishful-thinking response / announcement that I wish he had made. This would have shown commitment to student wellbeing and nonviolence by security personnel.

Please note that the mention of contacting the assaulted student with regards to support, which I have highlighted below, did not actually happen as far as I am aware – it's wishful thinking.

Dear staff, students and parents

We are sure you must have been as distressed as we were to see the photographs on the front page of the Cape Argus on 19 October showing a female UCT student being dragged along the ground by her hair at the hands of a private security guard on main campus. Equally concerning is the photograph on the next page showing the same student lying on the ground with no one assisting her. 

We would like to reassure all of you that she is safe and, despite multiple bruises, has no more serious injuries. When she was arrested for alleged misdemeanors during the preceding protest action, a handful of concerned students and two staff members followed the student to the police station to provide comfort and coordinate a legal response. She was released on bail two days later on Thursday, 20 October. We have contacted her to offer assistance and counselling.

Many UCT staff members and senior students are working hard to support and protect all our students during this difficult time. As part of these efforts, a number of staff members have chosen to be present as observers in the midst of conflicts between students and security personnel. This meant that the student received help and medical assistance very quickly. It also meant that many of us learnt of the incident reported in the Argus soon after it happened. We were, and remain, deeply concerned about the safety and wellbeing of all our students.

We acknowledge that incidents such as these are very distressing for our students, staff and parents, and we deeply regret this happening on our watch.

We take any assault committed on UCT grounds by any party very seriously indeed and are examining the camera footage to decide if we need to lay a charge of assault against the security guard concerned. We appeal to anyone who witnessed this incident, or any other assault by SAPS or private security personnel, to contact us. We have also liaised with management of the private security company concerned to suggest an internal disciplinary enquiry.

We are also concerned to hear from a staff member that on Wednesday, 19 October, during a tense standoff between students and security, a journalist held up the Argus front page photo of our student being assaulted. The journalist purposefully drew the attention of the protesting students to the same photograph, which showed the face of the guard involved. This naturally inflamed the tempers of some of the student protestors. A UCT staff member and active observer, who witnessed the protest action that day, is of the opinion that this action further destabilised the already volatile situation, which then ended with the assaults on two security guards.

We do not condone or excuse any violent behavior. Nonetheless, we appeal to all parties to exercise restraint. We particularly appeal to all media personnel to be very careful about any actions that might escalate any volatile situation

We continue to be very aware that our primary role is to serve and teach our students, and we continue to do everything we can to ensure their safety.

Dr Jenny Durandt

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