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Johannesburg - Responses to whether or not students are safe at South Africa’s university and college campuses differ significantly, depending on who you ask.
The institutions themselves say they’re “generally” and “relatively” safe for students and staff members, with “petty” crimes such as cellphone and laptop thefts attributed to the victims’ negligence.
Students, however, say much more needs to be done to ensure their safety on campuses.
The issue of campus security came into the spotlight last month when a 23-year-old female student was kidnapped at gunpoint from a parking lot at the University of Johannesburg’s main Kingsway campus in Auckland Park. The student was forced into the boot of her car with her hands tied and the kidnapper drove off campus and withdrew money from the student’s bank accounts.
The perpetrator, 18, was also a student at the institution. Police reportedly traced the woman’s car to the home of the suspect, a first-year student, and he was arrested. He had dropped the woman off near Eldorado Park.
Not more than a week later, another student from the university’s Doornfontein campus was shot during an attempted robbery. The 30-year-old student, who was accompanied by another student, had walked off campus to buy food.
When the pair returned, they were accosted by two suspects just outside the university. One student fled and the other was shot.
Speaking to The Star after the shooting, the university’s student representative council (SRC) president, Levy Masete, said criminal elements in and around the campus were commonplace. He said security measures were inadequate.
South African Students’ Congress (Sasco) secretary general Themba Masondo said judging by information the congress constantly received through its structures, students were not safe.
“Sasco isn’t satisfied with the state of students’ safety in our colleges and universities,” he said.
Masondo said although situations differed from institution to institution, students were generally not as safe as they should be.
“In populated metros like Joburg, Cape Town and Durban, students are more vulnerable to security threats. As Sasco, we believe that crimes that happen at higher education institutions are not petty. We hear from our structures reports of students whose cars are stolen and students being stabbed and their lives being threatened,” he said.
A student who did feel threatened not long ago was Wits University law student Zareef Minty.
During a meeting of the Law Students Council (LSC) in the main campus’s law building two months ago, Minty said LSC members escaped an attempted robbery.
“Two individuals came in with what appeared to be a letter of acceptance to ask us about it. As some of us were looking at the letter we realised that the two men were looking around the room; it seemed like they were looking for something,” he said.
Minty said when the students became suspicious they pushed the men out and shut the door.
“There are certain buildings we refuse to hold meetings in any more because they’re not safe. We always have issues with campus control… I feel that as students, we are paying fees and part of that fee goes to security, but we’re paying for a service we’re not getting,” he said. Another law student, Bahiya Karolia, said cases of students being harassed at distant lecture venues were common.
“Venues for student lectures are widely dispersed and some are isolated at the ends of the property.
“Students are also made to park on fields which are very quiet and far from other people. You can only find security at limited points on campus and they are very far from the areas of concern,” she said.
What they said:
The Wits campuses are generally safer than the surrounding areas in which they are based.
Incidents of the opportunistic theft of laptops and cellphones left unattended are the most common forms of crime. A new trend is one we term “theft under false pretenses” in Braamfontein, where staff and students are asked by strangers to use their cellphones to report an emergency. The thief takes hold of the cellphone, pretends to be making a call and then runs away with the handset. In recent months, there have also been issues regarding the safety of pedestrians in Enoch Sontonga Road.
This seems to be as a result of crime moving up from hotspots in the south of Braamfontein near the Nelson Mandela and Queen Elizabeth bridges, which are now being patrolled. The university works with the police and the Braamfontein Management District to increase patrols in this area. The institution uses an access control system to manage the access of staff and students, a visitor permit system, equipment such as CCTV cameras, alarm systems, and security staff and foot patrols to ensure that students on campus are safe and protected. The greatest risks occur when staff/students use their staff/student cards to swipe in strangers onto campus.
University of Johannesburg
Petty crimes such as cellphone and laptop theft, usually due to negligence, are the most common.
The university is currently beefing up security personnel on the campus and works together with community policing forums (CPFs), ward councillors, the City of Joburg and the city’s emergency services. The institution is also modifying security measures at residences. The number of security personnel will be increased and security guards will no longer be stationed only at key points, but evenly spread.
University of Pretoria (UP)
Security measures are constantly monitored and reviewed to improve safety and security.
Due to the high crime rate in South Africa, the university’s Department of Security Services collaborates with the police, City of Tshwane Metropolitan Municipality and the Brooklyn SAPS security forum and all security companies in the Brooklyn police services jurisdiction to ensure a safe environment even outside the boundaries of the university’s campuses.
Measures include a 24-hour operational management centre run by the Department of Security Services and the Green Route Project, where security officials escort students on foot to their vehicles or residences between 6pm and 6am, seven days a week.
University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN)
The university has stringent security measures in place across all five campuses. These include access control gates, CCTV cameras and 24-hour security patrols on foot.
The university’s risk management services are located on all campuses and in addition, the institution has established partnerships with the various CPFs and the police. The university runs a safety and security awareness campaign where staff and students are urged to be alert and to keep an eye on their personal belongings. The university encourages staff members and students to request security presence when walking to their vehicles at night.
University of Cape Town (UCT)
The University has over 500 security cameras across the various campuses, and this, along with a campus protection service (CPS), provides UCT campuses with 24-hour security. Through the CPS, the university is in immediate contact with the police and the Groote Schuur Central Improvement District. UCT also holds regular awareness campaigns on various campuses to identify crime hot spots.
The Tshwane University of Technology, the University of Limpopo and the Durban University of Technology didn’t respond to queries.
None of the institutions provided the number of cases reported since the beginning of the year and in the same period last year, relating to criminal incidents on campus.