Turning to vigilantes

2013-06-20 00:00

UNIVERSITY of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN) students in Pietermaritzburg have turned vigilante to protect themselves and fellow students against crime on campus.

This has been prompted, they say, by a string of criminal attacks, combined with the poor security at the university and the alleged failure of police to act on their behalf.

Young Communist League branch secretary and student Isaac Luthuli said students were not protected by the university’s security.

“We formed a forum that is called ‘Operation Shayu tsotsi’ [Beat the Criminal] that randomly walks around the campus to make sure that everyone is safe inside and outside the campus.”

The group, armed with sticks and sjamboks, had apprehended several suspicious people and handed them over to the police.

Luthuli said they approached male students who wanted to be part of the anti-crime operation,

The criminals robbed, raped and stole cars, including when students were attending lectures or were walking around on or near the campus.

Sometimes criminals entered the university residences and did as they pleased, as security cameras were allegedly not working.

Security personnel were only seen at some of the main entrances of the campus and many of the security gates were not working.

The Witness visited the university at night and was shown how many of the gates were not functioning.

The gates are supposed to allow access to students only when their valid student cards are swiped, but many are swinging freely, open to anyone who wants to walk in.

Stories detailing crime experiences are plentiful on campus.

One student, who asked not to be named, said she had a narrow escape recently when unknown people broke into her room. “Fortunately, I screamed for help and the students [from operation Shayu Tsotsi] come to my rescue.”

Another student, Xolile Sibisi, said her car was taken while parked in Golf Road in February and was recovered three days later in the Edendale area.

Three female students, who were on their way to the Golden Horse in May, were forced into a car by two men armed with guns and knives. They were driven to a spot near the Woodhouse Road bridge where they were robbed of their cellphones, bags and jackets, while one of the girls was forced at knifepoint to kiss the men. The men then abandoned the girls there, taking their car.

When The Witness visited the campus, emergency buttons at the gates were not working. This means that students have no way of summoning help.

Turnstile gates were not working in Malherbe residence, Main Gate M6, on Golf Road coming out of the main campus, at the Hexagon theatre entrance, as well as at the Denison residence. The car gates were also not working at Malherbe, Brucian and Robleigh residences, while the gate at the Alexandra Road residence is open 24 hours a day with no security guard manning it.

“Since we started walking around and protecting ourselves, these criminal activities have decreased,” said Luthuli.

Some residents in Scottsville suspect that students are part of a syndicate in their area that steals cars, but this was denied by students The Witness spoke to.

Instead, they say the university is used as an easy escape route by opportunistic criminals who operate in the area.

Police spokesperson Lieutenant Joey Jeevan said police were aware of cases of robbery on campus, but she was unable to give statistics. She said two men suspected of robbing three students were arrested and would appear in court on Monday for a bail application.

“The police in Pietermaritzburg have noted that several robberies are occurring in and around the city recently. Regular patrols and static duties are being performed by the police. Everyone should be extra careful.”

Student Representatives Council president Meshack Zuma said they were not encouraging vigilantism, but the state of security on campus forced students to protect themselves.

“We only have 17 security personnel in the campus to protect more than 9 000 students. These people are not even fit for the job. They look old and you can see that they cannot chase suspects. The cameras and turnstile gates are broken, which allows criminals to gain easy access to the campus.”

Students were forced to escort each other at night to lecture rooms from the residences, as some students live off campus.

Zuma said, while he was aware of the crime situation, students must also be aware that mob justice is not allowed.

UKZN spokesperson Nomonde Mbadi said the university’s Risk Management Services (RMS) was unaware of the student policing forum.

She also seemed unaware of the problem with several gates that were not functioning properly.

“Routine maintenance of access gates has been attended to and, to date, only one access gate requires maintenance.

“All RMS security personnel are fit for duty. RMS has identified the hot spots off campus … and has alerted the SAPS about this concern,” Mbadi said.

The university encouraged students to be vigilant of their personal belongings and their surroundings. Students should always walk in a group and valuables should not be visible. Mbadi said students should engage with RMS to report any concerns.

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