A stampede broke out at the University of Johannesburg. Photo: Adrian de Kock
The mother of a prospective student died in a stampede at the University of Johannesburg on Tuesday as thousands of youth queued in desperate bids for a chance to study.
“It certainly is the saddest day for me personally in the six years that I have been vice chancellor in the UJ,” Ihron Rensburg said.
Twenty-two people were injured in the stampede, Johannesburg metro police said. Emergency services spokeswoman Nana Radebe said two of them were critically hurt.
On Tuesday afternoon, university staff handed out pamphlets notifying at least 3000 people still at the entrance that no more late applications would be accepted.
Recounting the morning’s events, Rensburg said that by early Tuesday morning a three-kilometre-long queue had formed outside the university’s entrance.
Applications for its four campuses – Auckland Park Kingsway, Auckland Park Bunting Road, Doornfontein and Soweto – were processed at the Bunting Road campus.
This was because many of the late applicants were not sure about what they wanted to study, so they felt it was unhelpful to send them to campuses which only offered specific fields of study.
Knowing that there were about 1000 places available, people became restive.
This year applications reached 85,000, much higher than the 67,000 of last year, with 99 percent of them seeking admission for undergraduate studies.
“We are the only university that offers diploma courses at undergraduate level. Our undergraduate entry requirements make many high school graduates apply to this institution because of the high chances of being admitted,” said Rensburg.
It was also one of the few to accept last-minute applications from prospective students who achieved unexpected university entrance passes.
They had 50 people working in central applications, about 40 in support services including security, and about 15 emergency medical staff.
Around 7.30am university staff said they would open the gates at 8am.
“There was then a lot of movement,” said Rensburg. “Young people were jumping over the palisade fence… there was a constant push from the back by about 500 persons on the gate.”
The university’s protection services felt that unless they opened the gate, there would be a significant crush, so it was opened.
June Molora, from Vosloorus on the East Rand, had accompanied her grandson Kabelo Tabane to apply for an information technology course and described events as the most shocking thing she had ever seen.
“I was so shocked and I started asking myself what could have happened if it was me that was dead. The cause of her death may not have been intentional but it is very sad to see someone losing her life while trying to build a good future for her child,” she said.
Blaming the university for poor communication, she said they had arrived at 8am on Monday and waited until they were turned away around 2pm. No one had helped them find where to register for the first time.
Higher Education Minister Blade Nzimande said crowds descending on universities for late applications was a nationwide problem every year, but UJ seemed to attract a lot more people.
And many did not know what they wanted to study, “clogging” the queue further.
The department was hoping to have centralised registration in place by next year and would provide more information at schools on the applications process.
He also wanted more pupils to consider studying at Further Education and Training colleges, where a budget of over R1 billion was available for bursaries for poor students.
A joint task team of university and police would investigate the stampede. Nzimande said it would not be fair to take action against the university at this point.
“We can’t go and punish UJ for what is a national issue.”
However, the department was considering halting late applications across the country, and planned to centralise applications.
“It’s something that we are seriously considering that maybe we should not consider ‘walk-ins’,” Nzimande told reporters in Johannesburg.
“We think that the price we are paying is too much,” he said after offering condolences to the family of the woman who was killed, and to the families of those injured.
President of the Student Representative Council, Tendani Nembidzane, blamed university management for the stampede, saying basic information such as where to register was not available.
Around 3pm, most of the people had already left and the gate was opened. Police officers were still visible while municipal workers were cleaning the entrance of the campus. – Sapa