Mom crushed to death trying to get son education

2012-01-10 17:51

Students describe UJ stampede

2012-01-10 14:12

Students waiting to register at the University of Johannesburg’s Bunting Road campus explain what led to the stampede in which a woman was killed and 17 other people injured. WATCH

Johannesburg – “It’s a sad day in history that a mother, who had sacrificed so much for the education of her son, should lose her life trying to assist her son to get an excellent tertiary education at the University of Johannesburg,” said vice chancellor Ihron Rensburg.

A stampede broke out on Tuesday as thousands tried to enrol at the university, killing one woman and injuring at least 22 people, university and police officials said.

“Our condolences to her family and friends and our thoughts go to the other applicants who were injured during the course of the morning’s events,” Rensburg said.

Thousands of people had queued outside the university after it announced it would accept late applications from those who missed an earlier deadline or who recently became eligible thanks to their exam scores.

When the university opened its gates at 07:30 to begin letting applicants in, people in the back of the line started pushing, officials said.

Unbearable thrust

"There was a simply unbearable thrust at the front. The outcome was we had one parent who was also in the queue that was crushed and passed away. Two other people are in a critical condition," Rensburg told a press conference.

Footage showed the area littered with stray clothing and shoes pulled off in the fray.

"I can confirm one dead and twenty-two were injured," Johannesburg metro police spokesperson Wayne Minnaar told AFP.

The university told the media that crowd control outside the campus was the responsibility of the police.

Aspiring students and their parents had been queuing outside the university since the early hours of Monday hoping to submit late applications. Many had brought umbrellas and chairs and camped there overnight.

The national university system has room for about 150 000 first-year students this year. A further 180 000 high school graduates are expected to be turned away.

The University of Johannesburg said it had received 85 000 on-time applications for the 2012 academic year, up from 67 000 for 2011. It has places for 11 000 first-year students.

Late applications

The University of Johannesburg said the process for the consideration of new applications was closed, after they received approximately 7 000 late applications since Monday 9 January.

Rensburg said the university had decided to accept late applications in a bid to make sure poor students were not excluded from higher education.

"We must do everything possible to a community that simply doesn't have access to information to afford them this opportunity," he said.

Deputy Higher Education Minister Hlengiwe Mkhize said it is not possible for all tertiary institutions to accommodate the large number of late applicants.

But Higher Education Minister Blade Nzimande said his ministry was considering putting a stop to the late application process.

"It's something that we are seriously considering that maybe we should not consider walk-ins," he told a press conference.

"We think that the price we are paying is too much."

Nzimande expressed concern that prospective students did not have enough information on the application process and that Further Education and Training colleges were good alternatives for study.

More places needed

He said some prospective students did not know what they wanted to study and this "clogged" queues because of "on the spot counselling".

"There's a very racist discourse that tries to say people are not prepared for university, they shouldn't get in, we shouldn't be admitting them," Graeme Bloch, an education policy analyst and visiting professor at the University of the Witwatersrand, told AFP.

"Hell, people are prepared to queue day and night to get in. They obviously are keen to get in. What we need is more places, not less students."

There were no signs of the morning's stampede on the campus by midday. Substantially smaller queues were moving in dribs and drabs through metal barricades.

Applicants, often with family members, have camped out by university gates for days hoping to gain entrance.

Zamantungwa Kumbo, 19, and her mother, clutched the bedding they brought to campus and waited for a decision.

"I passed out, and lost my shoes," Kumbo said. "People were kicking and running over me.
"I wanted to leave, but my mother convinced me that it was more important to stay, to try to find out if I was admitted."

Fanie Nhlapo, 19, said he had been waiting since 01:30 to apply.

"I want to become an ambassador," said the eastern Johannesburg resident, the son of two unemployed parents.

"I didn't apply last year because the application fee was expensive [R250]," he told AFP.

"My dad did some recycling and raised the money for me."

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