University, police deny culpability in death crush
Neither the University of Johannesburg nor the metro police is willing to accept responsibility for the fatal stampede at the Bunting Road campus.
The university claims the incident took place outside the campus and so the institution cannot be held accountable, while the Johannesburg metro police say they were responsible for monitoring traffic, not the people queuing at the gate.
As the university opened its gates to admit late applicants at about 7.45am on Tuesday morning, the 6 000-strong crowd of prospective students and parents stormed the entrance in a chaotic surge that left the mother of one of the applicants dead and 17 others injured.
Vice-chancellor Ihron Rensburg expressed dismay at the woman’s death: “When we opened the gates this morning ... there was simply an unbearable crush on the front entrance. The outcome ... was that we had one parent, who was in the queue, crushed and she passed away.”
Student Representative Council (SRC) president Tendani Nembidzane told the Mail & Guardian that the university should accept full responsibility for the tragedy because of its failure to plan accordingly.
He said insufficient crowd management preparations were in place to deal with the crowd outside the university’s gates.
Nembidzane told the M&G that the SRC had offered to help manage the crowds but had not been kept in the loop: “What happened could have been prevented because we wrote to the university [on Monday] to say that it was unfair that student leaders could not be granted access to the university to help manage the situation.”
The SRC has also lambasted the university for allegedly leaving the 46-year-old’s body exposed for nearly 30 minutes before making an effort to cover her.
Rensburg told journalists that contingency plans had been made with the South African Police Services and Johannesburg metro police but that these had failed because university staff weren’t monitoring events outside the gates.
Metro police spokesperson Wayne Minnaar also attempted to distance the department from the death, saying “some police were managing traffic, not controlling crowds”.
Calls for footage
However, Minnaar promised a swift investigation and called on anyone with footage of the stampede to hand it over to police to assist in efforts.
The university’s head of security, Roelof Hugo, said that by 7.30am a crowd of over 6 000 prospective students had gathered outside the gates.
“We noticed the crowds. We deployed security personnel to try to organise [the crowds]. As soon as we opened the gate, the people at the back [of the queue] pushed the people at the front.”