By Nthateng Chuene
Imagine you are at your lecture when suddenly a man sitting at the back of the lecture theatre pulls out a gun and begins to shoot. He is not a Rhodes student. He is not a Rhodes staff member. He is just an ordinary man with a gun. He simply walked onto campus and into your lecture theatre with no hassle.
As a university, we are naïve about our safety. Any person can walk on and off campus, with easy access to our lecture theatres. We do not have a barrier of safety around our university. Rhodes University officially opened in the early 1900s and has made Grahamstown a student town since. The campus is open and there is no clear distinction between campus and the town. This is unlike other universities where physical barriers exist.
Rhodes then becomes an easy target for both petty crime and extreme crimes, placing the lives of both staff and students in danger. One can argue and say that there is CPU patrolling campus, but are they enough to protect all students and staff?
Previously recorded safety breaches
There have been past altercations that have taken place on campus, the most prominent incident being the death of two people in Cullen Bowles residence. The victims included a Rhodes student and a 35-year-old male who was not a student. In addition, an incident is said to have occurred in the Botanical Gardens where a woman taking a morning jog was raped, according to Susan Kunju, the warden of Truro House.
In June 2014, students and staff were warned to be more cautious and to “beef up security after a recent crime wave” according to Herald Live News. This was due to crimes happening in and around town, which were predicted to have been able to spread on to campus. These crimes included theft of laptops and cell phones from cars and offices which would have easily had a negative impact on the people on this campus.
The impact on students and staff members today
Kunju is a Rhodes graduate as well as a mother of three young children aged between a year and four years old. She feels that her children are “reasonably safe, but could be safer” and that the security on campus is “not very efficient”.
Kunju recalls incidents such as stealing of laptops in residences, students being mugged as well as raped on campus. These incidents have made her feel that the issue of safety is “definitely worse now than back then”.
First year student Charlene Rathebe says she does not feel completely safe, “especially at night”. She admits to walking around campus at night with pepper spray as a safety precaution; even for when she is walking from her residence to the shops ten minutes away.
Another first year student, Upile Bongco, shared how she feels relatively safe because she has not experienced danger. However she feels that “we are naïve because we haven’t had reason to really question our safety” she says. She notes that other campuses she has been to have been safer than that of Rhodes, which is something we need to look into.
She adds that security is lacking because “if they were enough, they would show”. She has experienced the lack of security by seeing a man in her residence garden looking through the kitchen window in the early hours of the morning. She feels that she is more at risk because her residence is very close to town.
Positive aspects of not being secluded
There are positive aspects to the University not being closed off from the rest of the town. Some of these include the fact that Grahamstown is a student town; it cannot be such without the free wanderings of students and staff. The absence of a gate gives us the opportunity to explore the town freely without the hassle of having to sign in and out. This creates the welcoming atmosphere that Rhodes is known for. It welcomes people to our beautiful campus and gives the public easy access to the Botanical Gardens. In addition, students in digs are not excluded like in other universities which creates a unified atmosphere between the student body.
For those nearer to town, Bongco says it is easier for them to get in and out of town. She adds that it makes it easier for her when she goes out with friends at night. She has become comfortable to the point where she does not feel the need to use the blue route, a security route frequented by CPU guards.
However, the campus is not as safe as it should be. Security could be strengthened by boom-gates being installed by all the main roads entering the university and more CPU patrol cars situated around campus. Just because we love the atmosphere that Rhodes has, it does not mean we should neglect campus safety.
Nthateng Chuene is a first year Journalism and Media Studies student. She can be contacted on firstname.lastname@example.org