EXPOSED: NMU security apathy

In the wake of the violent rape and stabbing of two female students last month, Weekend Post reporters made 26 unannounced visits to four of NMU’s major Port Elizabeth campuses to test security measures. Angela Daniels, Devon Koen, Sibulele Mboyi and Ntombesizwe Botha reports.

Visitors testing security at NMU this week found, from left, the boom open and no security guard at the north campus, no security guard and the boom open at the Second Avenue campus, and a security guard on duty with an ID card with an open boom at the south campus.
Pictures: Brian Witbooi

Accessing Nelson Mandela University’s many campuses in the Bay is as simple as telling security guards you are visiting a friend – that is if they are at their posts at all.

The university – recently in the news following the violent rape and stabbing of two female students – promised immediately after the attack to tighten security measures. Staff and students, however, say they still do not feel safe, nor do they believe security has been tightened.

To test this, Weekend Post reporters and photographers made 26 unannounced visits to four of the university’s major Port Elizabeth campuses – north, south and Second Avenue campuses in Summerstrand and the university’s Missionvale campus.

Not once during the 26 visits were any reporters or photographers turned away, nor were their vehicles ever checked.

Student Siyamthanda Bolo, 25, who is studying analytical chemistry, said she did not feel safe on campus, with more frequent patrols vital. Bolo said: “We don’t feel safe because everyone has free access to the premises. “There should be stricter security measures, especially at bus stops and parking areas as there is minimal visibility of security. There needs to be frequent patrolling for us to feel safe.”

This week, university spokeswoman Zandile Mbabela conceded that security was still not what it should be, but said a task team was working on addressing the weaknesses. She said the task team was also looking at digital solutions like installing panic buttons in hotspot areas and the development of emergency web-based applications.

A day after the attack on the students, who were in the computer labs at the Second Avenue campus, the university said it would increase the number of guards patrolling, undertake control checks at entrances, audit the lights on campuses, improve CCTV monitoring and set up a task team.

With the first line of defence for the university being boom gates into the campuses, it was this element Weekend Post tested first, and found the following:

  • Boom gates frequently stand open, often unattended;
  • Security guards open the booms without questioning visitors;
  • Access always granted, even without accreditation;
  • On one occasion, a security guard asked a reporter if he was an Uber driver, seemingly happy for the reporter to provide that reason to be let in;
  • No vehicle checks on entering or exiting; and
  • No access control between north and south campuses.

Asked about the ease with which the Weekend Post team was able to access the campuses, Mbabela said: “While the safety of staff and students is an apex priority of the university, there were some identified challenges to effective security provision in and around our campuses. “Among the key challenges noted was the adequate training and capacitation of the recently insourced security personnel to enable improved protection services.

“This is part of the university’s greater reintegration project that is currently under way. “The recently formed safety and security task team, comprising students, organised labour and university management representatives, has been engaging to drive immediate, medium- and long-term solutions towards the effective safety of students and staff.”

Staff and students spoken to, however, said they had not yet seen any tangible changes over the past month since the attack.

Similarly, the Weekend Post team very rarely saw guards patrolling the campuses as they strolled from building to building and from north to south campus. A female staff member who has worked at the NMU south campus for a decade, and who asked not to be named, said she had become increasing concerned about her safety on campus.

“A few years ago there was good security on campus, especially south campus where anyone who entered was given a visitor’s access card which they had to keep on them at all times in case they were stopped by security. “This would have to be returned on exiting and your car would be searched to make sure, firstly, that it wasn’t a stolen vehicle and also to ensure there was no stolen equipment being kept in it.”

A male staff member who studied  at NMU on both the north and south campuses and who has been working for the institution for five years, said security was a major concern for him and his students.

The man, who also asked not to be named, said: “Security is very slack on campus. We’ve had incidences where equipment was stolen, students’ belongings are stolen in and around lecture halls – even cars have been stolen. “It is unacceptable that students, and staff for that matter, are not safe.

“Something drastic needs to be done.”

Echoing the NMU staff members was mechanical engineering student Bevan Jaganath, 19, who said: “Not all points on campus are safe. “It is easy for people to waltz in and out as they please even behind the bushes around north campus. “The fact that security do not check pedestrians is not much of an improvement on the beefing up of security.”

What is being done to tackle campus issues?

In a question and answer session, Nelson Mandela University spokeswoman Zandile Mbabela explained what was being done to tighten up security

Q: Following the October 2 attack, the university said it would up the number of security guards. Has this happened and by how many guards?

A: Security has been enhanced by way of added focus on identification at access points, on grounds and inside buildings, where at any stage security can approach and request identification. The increase in numbers is subject to added proactive patrols being provided to all our campuses by armed response vehicles. Added to this, weekly site visits are conducted by senior supervisory staff to ensure compliance and consistent service delivery.

Q: Has the joint task team been set up?

A: The safety and security task team was set up and met within the week of the incident. The task team has held several meetings since. Some of the work that has been done includes:

  • Entering into a partnership with public security institutions – SAPS and Metro Police – as part of improving security. This partnership will be limited to them assisting with patrols at off-campus surrounds and student accommodation. Improving CCTV camera coverage – hindrance to visibility of cameras by shrubbery has been addressed and additional cameras ordered.
  • On-campus green routes have been identified for improved security monitoring. Additional security personnel have been deployed to the identified routes.
  • Enlisting the services of a private security company to assist with armed response and patrols as a way to assist with and enhance the work of campus security personnel.
  • Sharing information with local security agencies to monitor crime around the area, through the Summerstrand Community Crime For um.
  • ICT has opened up the university’s WiFi network to allow for WhatsApp voice calling which will go a long way in assisting with reporting or alerting security to possible crimes. The department is also exploring a range of digital solutions towards improved safety, including a proposal to install panic buttons in identified hotspot areas and emergency web-based applications that would meet direct needs of the university stakeholders.
  • Shuttle routes have been reviewed to cover a wider area where students are to be dropped off closer to their destinations.

Q: Particular mention was made of ensuring security on the Second Avenue campus but this is where our team often saw no security. How does the university explain this lax security?

A: The university concedes to weaknesses in effective access control across its campus entrances and, through the work of the task team, is devising plans to adequately control entry points. One of the concerns raised by students, who form a critical part of the safety and security task team, was that the university was an open campus and needed to be converted to a closed campus. This is one of the longer-term solutions that the task team is working to address.

Q: Has the audit of lighting been completed?

A: An audit of the lighting across all campuses was conducted with the intention of repairing any malfunctioning lighting as well as addressing potential dark spots. Lights that were not working have been replaced and/or fixed and additional lighting is being put in place where needed.

 

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