The man who raped a student and stabbed another in a violent attack inside a Nelson Mandela University computer laboratory on Monday night later made the women help him carry out the equipment he stole.
News of the attack spread quickly as one of the women managed to send out a desperate, garbled plea for help on Facebook.
Her message read: “An someone please csend help we are beinf rapoed 2nd avenue campus fashjoom”.
This was shared throughout Monday night and Tuesday morning.
Student outrage was swift and by 6.30am yesterday, students were blocking both the north and south campus roads, demanding answers from the university.
At a meeting with the authorities later, they called for the university’s head of safety and security to be axed.
CCTV images of a man wearing a hat and orange top, who police confirm is a suspect, were also shared rapidly across social media platforms.
In one image, he is wearing rubber gloves as he turns the lab door handle and, in another, appears to be fiddling with his belt, either pulling his trousers up or down.
Police Minister Fikile Mbalula was among those who circulated the pictures, saying: “The SAPS are working to track this suspected criminal down. Sizombamba [we will catch him]”.
Police spokeswoman Colonel Priscilla Naidu said the students were inside the lab when the man attacked them at about 7.30pm.
“The suspect gained entry through an unlocked door.
“The students, aged 25 and 30, were then threatened with a pair of scissors and one was forced to hand over her cellphone.
“The other student claimed not to have a cellphone and he stabbed her in the back.”
After the assault, in which one of the students was raped, the attacker forced both women to carry the stolen goods to the university’s perimeter fence bordering Kuruman Kloof Street in Summerstrand.
“He climbed over the side gate and ordered them to pass the screen and monitor to him,” Naidu said.
The man then fled with the equipment.
“The women managed to get assistance from the security guards, who alerted the police.”
Police suspect the man scaled the perimeter fence, possibly gaining access the same way he fled.
NMU Student Representative Council (SRC) treasurer Babalwa Vena, who had been with the women since shortly after the attack, alerted on-campus security about the incident.
“The student who was raped is completely traumatised and not able to speak at all,” she said.
“The one who sent the message on Facebook is the stronger of the two and was able to tell us what happened last night, even though she battled to get through it.
“They are extremely traumatised and were planning on leaving Port Elizabeth but had to go back to the scene of the crime with police [yesterday] afternoon.
“We’d arranged counselling for them but when they saw there was a mob [student gathering], they couldn’t do it.”
NMU spokeswoman Zandile Mbabela said the institution was shocked by the incident.
She said the attacker had entered the computer laboratory mere minutes after security personnel had patrolled in the area.
“Both students received initial medical attention, with counselling and other support mechanisms in place for the rape victim,” she said.
The stabbing victim’s older sister said the family were shocked by the attack as they had never imagined that such a terrible thing could happen at the university.
“In our minds, she’s at school, she’s studying, she’s safe.
“We never thought this could happen to her – let alone on university grounds,” the woman said.
She demanded answers from NMU on how the attacker had managed to gain access to the lab.
“If he’s a student, what action are they going to take? If he’s a random person, how on earth did he manage to get in?”
The victim’s brother said it was worrying that such security breaches could happen on campus.
“Most of the information we have is coming from social media – we have not heard anything from the university,” he said last night.
“For now, we are still trying to deal with her trauma and immediate medical attention.
“However, we will take this up with the university management and the minister of higher education as we send kids to university to study and graduate, not to be stabbed or raped.”
The SRC condemned the attack and called on the university to heighten security.
“This incident again signifies the need for heightened security and police presence on all of our campuses, particularly at night, to ensure that our female students do not become victims of such heinous crimes,” it said.
Late last night, Mbabela said the university had agreed to most of the demands detailed in a memorandum submitted by student representatives. These included: ý Increasing the number of staff to undertake visible patrolling across all campuses, including all teaching venues;
- Expanding its partnership with the SAPS and metro police;
- Improvement of the CCTV monitoring;
- Undertaking control checks at entrances, taxi drop-off points and bus stops;
- Undertaking an audit of all the external campus lighting; and
- Extending its anti-crime initiatives with the Summerstrand Community Crime Forum.
Mbabela said medium- and long-term security efforts which were raised would be driven by the establishment of a joint campus safety and security task team, which would include students.
“All staff and students are advised to have their identity cards with them at all times as part of the immediate safety improvements on all our campuses.”
As news of the rape and robbery broke across the Bay yesterday morning, mayor Athol Trollip slammed the attack as a “deplorable act of criminality”.
“It is now time for the national police ministry to start taking crime in our city seriously,” he said.
“Local SAPS units have been fighting a valiant battle, but are often held back by huge staffing shortages and resource limitations.”
Mayoral committee member for safety and security John Best said he would meet police, student leaders and the university management to map the way forward.
SAPS cluster commander Major-General Funeka Siganga said the case had been handed over to the Family Violence Child Protection and Sexual Offences Unit.
“We will be meeting the relevant roleplayers today to find a way forward in improving security for the students,” she said.