Vaal campus terrorised by crime wave
At a time when campaigns demanding the “decolonisation” of universities are sweeping South African campuses, Vaal University of Technology (VUT) students in Vanderbijlpark are troubled by the fear of returning home in a coffin.
“Enough is enough. Students’ safety is vital. Students must come to VUT to study and return home as graduates, not corpses.”
Student leader Progress Nyiko Mpangane wrote these words in a memo inviting fellow students to an urgent meeting earlier this week.
VUT student leaders called the meeting in the wake of the murder of two female students at an off-campus private residence last Friday.
The students, both enrolled for a national diploma in logistics, were discovered on Saturday morning, shot dead in their room. Police had not announced any arrests by the time of going to print.
But this was just the latest violent criminal incident in a string of many involving VUT students on the campus and in its vicinity.
This is what students at the meeting, who filled the auditorium, took turns decrying.
Threatening to shut down the campus in protest, students repeatedly called on the university management to be held accountable for what they alleged was its failure to ensure their safety at the varsity and at privately owned residences.
A 2012 report on student housing commissioned by Higher Education and Training Minister Blade Nzimande said universities should accredit private residences accommodating students. But VUT management has not implemented such a policy, students charged.
University spokesperson Kediemetse Mokotsi said VUT does share a list of accredited residences with its students.
“However, it should be noted that the final decision to choose accommodation lies solely with the students and their parents,” he added.
Said the Nzimande-commissioned report: “Despite its shortcomings, private student housing is here to stay. The main problem with private residence provision in South Africa is the complete lack of regulation, which has given rise to the exploitation and endangerment of students.
“The promulgation of a minimum standards code will go a long way towards addressing this problem, particularly if adherence is monitored by the universities through a private student accommodation accreditation programme and structure, such as that developed and implemented by the University of Johannesburg.”
The house at which the VUT students were found dead does not even have a gate, said Mpangane, campus leader of the Economic Freedom Fighters Student Command.
“We want management to take responsibility and accountability. Management has to ensure students stay in a safe environment,” he told the Mail & Guardian.
In addition to the double murder last week, VUT students are still reeling from the killing of two female students at campus residences last year, as well as the rape of a female student at a campus residence and the murder of a male student just outside the campus this year.
At the meeting, students recounted countless stories of muggings and attempted muggings. “I thank God I’m still alive,” said a student who fell victim to a break-in at an off-campus residential facility.
At the root of their potentially life-threatening experiences is lax security at the residences, students agreed at the meeting.
To begin with, entrance to the campus is not properly regulated, they claimed. Turnstiles have not worked for the past five years, former student representative council president Thabang Mantoro said.
Security guards have resorted to merely checking student cards, a job they allegedly perform poorly.
“The university has failed to install security systems. We don’t know who comes in. As long as someone has a student card, no matter how old it is, they come in. The problem is that anyone can just walk in,” Mantoro said.
He called on VUT management to install biometric access devices to tighten security, adding that private residences should also be required to install similar security technology in order to be accredited as student accommodation.
Sporting an EFF beret, student Cassius Mabunda asked: “How do you have students shot dead without anybody noticing anything?
“We’re confronted with a very serious crisis as students of VUT. External houses need to be regulated. You find that there is not even a gate in some of these houses. That’s a security risk for students.”
A female student told the M&G of an incident two weeks ago when she ran into thugs ransacking her room at an on-campus residence.
“They had taken a laptop, tablet, ID and some other personal stuff. I interrupted them before they could escape and so they dropped my things and ran away,” she said.
“They were people from outside. The thing is, when you enter campus all they [campus security guards] ask for is a student card, which they don’t even check if it’s expired. They don’t even check the name or whether the student card belongs to you or not. As long as you produce a student card, you enter. We don’t feel safe here.”
This week, in reaction to the killing of the two female students, the university announced that a closed-circuit television surveillance system would soon be installed.
“The VUT council has approved the procurement of a state-of-the-art CCTV security system to ensure the safety of our students on campus and at residences outside the main campus. The installation will start immediately as the service provider has already been appointed,” the university management said in a statement.
Student Sifiso Xaba told the meeting: “Student lives matter at VUT and other universities. We can’t afford that, when students are here, they lose their lives and go back home as corpses. We must break the silence.”
The VUT vice-chancellor’s office is organising a march to the Vanderbijlpark police station on Friday to “hand over a memorandum of concerns”, the university said.