VUT students boycott classes for 'basic services'

VUT students are protesting for more security at all the institution's residences after two students were killed. (Oupa Nkosi, M&G)

VUT students are protesting for more security at all the institution's residences after two students were killed. (Oupa Nkosi, M&G)

Vaal University of Technology (VUT) students deserted classes on Monday in a bid to compel the institution’s management to hear their demands for improved security on both campus and off-campus residences.

“We’ve suspended classes simply because we’re demanding a basic service, which is security. When we say basic we mean installation of CCTV [closed-circuit television] cameras and a biometric fingerprint [access] systems,” student representative council (SRC) president Troy Mathebula told the Mail & Guardian outside campus.

The M&G found about 300 students gathered outside the main gate of VUT’s administrative campus in Vanderbijlpark, south of Gauteng. About 60 security guards manned the gate, seemingly ready to block students from entering campus.

Students resolved last week to protest following the murder of two female students at an off-campus private residence two weeks ago.
Students held a mass meeting where they decried that this was just the latest violent criminal incident in a string of many involving VUT students on the campus and in its vicinity.

In that meeting they 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, the M&G reported.

In addition to the double murder two weeks ago, 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.

Students fear for their safety
Mathebula on Monday said: “Today we’re saying enough is enough, after we’ve lost two students who were shot and killed in a private accommodation. 

“Students are fed up. Students are scared for their safety. We’re majority stakeholders of the university and we have a voice. So we’ve said we’ll not go to class until we’re given a proper response on how they are going to improve security.

“This is not the first time [students submit memorandum on security]. There are many memoranda sent in a way that does not disturb classes and operations of the university, but obviously they’ve ignored them. This time around we resolved that we want to be taken serious.”

Led by vice-chancellor Irene Moutlana, management went to students gathered at the main gate to receive their memorandum of demands. But students refused to submit it, instead they insisted on their resolution that this should happen in the house where students were killed.

Explaining the students’ decision, Mathebula said: “We’re the ones who are victims of inadequate security. We’re demanding that the memorandum should be handed over in the house where the students were killed, which is 500m away from the institution. 

“What we ask is that management must join us in a peaceful march and observe a moment of silence and thereafter we’re going to submit a memorandum.”

Unwarranted actions
Moutlana’s office blasted the SRC for disruption of classes and university operations. “It is management’s view that the action by the SRC was uncalled for and unwarranted,” said university spokesperson Kediemetse Mokotsi in a statement. 

“Furthermore, management was prepared to receive a memorandum from the SRC president [Mathebula] this morning, which he refused to handover.”

Management does “acknowledge the concerns raised by students … regarding issues of security and access control”, Mokotsi said. She reiterated that a closed-circuit television surveillance system would soon be installed, along with new turnstiles. 

Mokotsi said crime incidences that happened early 2014 have been resolved through efforts of VUT’s internal investigators. 

A suspect has been arrested in connection with the recent killing of two students and is appearing in court on Tuesday.

Bongani Nkosi

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