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Petty crime a big issue for students

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.

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