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Keep universities safe, but don't turn them into prisons: Blade Nzimande

Nomarashiya Caluza, chairperson of the Unizulu council, with minister of higher education and training Blade Nzimande at a press briefing in Durban on Monday.
Nomarashiya Caluza, chairperson of the Unizulu council, with minister of higher education and training Blade Nzimande at a press briefing in Durban on Monday.
Image: Orrin Singh

There is a fine line between keeping universities safe and turning them into prisons. This is one of the major challenges that the department of higher education and training is looking to address.

According to minister Blade Nzimande, engagement between his department and members of the Private Security Industry Regulatory Authority (PSIRA) is vital in dealing with the issue.

Nzimande was addressing the media in Durban in the wake of at least two incidents in the province - one in which a student at the University of Zululand (Unizulu) was stabbed and robbed at his off-campus accommodation, and another in which a student died after being stabbed in a lecture room at the Durban University of Technology (DUT).

Nzimande said the he would soon engage with PSIRA regarding the roles of private security at universities. "A lot of the security companies are not trained or have experience in crowd control, and PSIRA are concerned about this," he said.

The minister said while he understood the importance of security in ensuring the safety of students, security companies could not take over the role of police. "The minister of police has agreed that dealing with the matter of safety and security lies with the police," he said.

Nzimande began his speech by expressing his condolences for Sandile Ndlovu, a first-year industrial engineering student who was attacked in a lecture hall at DUT's Steve Biko campus two weeks ago.

"I again wish to express my heartfelt condolences to his family, friends and fellow students on his passing, and further express my most serious concern about the often tragic deaths of university students on some of our campuses," he said.

He urged the criminal justice system to ensure a speedy arrest and prosecution of the people responsible for Ndlovu's death.

Nzimande also addressed the acts of violence and unrest at Unizulu, which saw members of the community destroy the local satellite police station after Msawenkosi Nxumalo was shot and robbed at his unaccredited off-campus accommodation. 

"Unizulu students have highlighted the vulnerability of students living off campus to burglary and related violent crimes - and the dire shortage of sufficient and safe student housing on the university campus."

He said after meeting with university management on Friday, he had informed them that an agreement had been met between Universities South Africa (USAf) and his department.

"USAf would work with the department to develop a joint plan of action towards a plan to address campus security, including preventing acts of violence, and gender-based violence in particular, on university campuses," he said.

"We agreed that this would include a process to gather information on the status of safety and security plans and strategies on campuses across the country to identify urgent matters to address at individual institutions."

Nzimande this would include looking at infrastructure requirements for better security on campuses that could be funded through the department’s infrastructure and efficiency fund.

He said R235m had been earmarked for student housing and already transferred to Unizulu to begin construction of new accommodation for 3,500 students over the next three years.

Nomarashiya Caluza, chairperson of Unizulu council, said there was only on-campus student housing for 5,560 students - far too few for the the university's 18,000 students.

She said the issue of student accommodation was vital, but not as vital as access to education. 

"If we can move to a situation where we say, 'Why are you allowing students to reside outside of the university?', what does that suggest? It would suggest that we would only [have] 5,560 [students], according to the beds that we have," she said.

"What about the hard-won victory of higher education? That is the other issue."

Nzimande requested that Unizulu develops a full plan for the next six to ten years that will result in 80% of students being able to reside on or near campus in residences that meet the prescribed standards for university living and learning environments.

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