[intro]When UJ students joined in national protests against fee hikes, there was already a heavy police and private security presence on campus. Magnificent Mndebele, University of Johannesburg (UJ) student and journalist, was verbally and physically attacked for reporting on protests at the end of September. He reflects on the violence.[/intro]
“Do not dare. I’m not fighting. Look, I am not protesting, I am practising my journalistic job so why do you have to stone me?” I screamed at the private security guards at UJ’s Doornfontein Campus last month.
On 28 September guards verbally threatened and physically assaulted students and journalists, throwing rocks and using pepper spray on journalists who were covering the unfolding events. One guard saw me filming and said; “If we see you filming at night I swear I could kill you.”
These are just some of the threats journalists and protestors were faced with, it was a difficult day, one that will scar me for a long time.
On my way to campus I was warned well about the violence from some protesting students. “Hey you can come and see, but be very careful when you film because [private security] does not want the media to show the brutalities that are happening here.”
‘We will hunt you’
One of the many casualties that day was Julliet Mabe, a law student at UJ, who had been pepper sprayed. She was in a lot of pain and she told me what had happened.
“I came out from class and I there was this man, he pepper sprayed me and called me a terrorist,” she said.
The security guard who had pepper sprayed Mabe was closeby and saw that I was interviewing her, “Just point the camera to me, I will pepper spray you,” he said to me.
“If that is your job to pepper spray students, then fine, but I will continue to do my job as a journalist,” I said. I asked him whether it was true that he had pepper-sprayed Mabe and in response, he threatened to smash my camera and ‘hunt’ me down.
“We will hunt you to death for what you are doing,” one security guard said.
The chaos and turmoil that surrounded me was not easy and I felt threatened on my own university campus, I’m left traumatised and I fear for my life because of the amount of times I was verbally assaulted.
UJ has since condemned attacks on students, and the South African National Editors Forum (SANEF) has also expressed outrage at the attacks on journalists.
Students do not feel safe on campus. I do not feel safe on my own campus. Many protesting students are now seen with their mouths and faces covered, some to protect their identity, but others know that they risk stun grenades, rubber bullets and pepper-spray when protesting. This is what it has come to.
But journalists do whatever it takes to get the story and despite the dangers I will continue to expose the abuse of power and injustices on my campus.
All images courtesy of Magnificent Mndebele