On the Anniversary of the Death of Lwando Mantshontsho (1990 – 2017)
Dear Mr President,
Saturday 12 May 2018 will mark a year since Lwando Mantshontsho, a Walter Sisulu University final year medical student was fatally stabbed by five of his fellow students at the Atlanta Residence.
The first anniversary of the death of the 27-year-old from Covimvaba – the home of Chris Hani – will probably go unnoticed and only be remembered by his family who have lost a potential breadwinner who – if he had graduated alive – would have broken their stubborn cycle of inter-generational poverty.
Mr President, yourself would know how his family would have been excited as Lwando left his village of Covimvaba to enter the hallowed grounds of an institution of higher learning to pursue a career in medicine.
You would know because it is the same journey you would have taken early 1972 when you enrolled at the University of the North (formerly known as Turfloop) to pursue a career in law.
You would remember the excitement of your father and mother who awaited the day of your graduation.
Whilst your academic studies were understandably disrupted by your detention in 1975 for a noble political cause (after the pro-Frelimo rallies), the academic journey of Lwando Mantshontsho was disrupted by a dishonorable death through a fatal stabbing incidence at the hands his fellow students after a drinking spree.
These five students have also been lost to society and are languishing in a correctional services facility in Mthatha. The accused are Sindile Kango, 21, a first-year economics student; third-year medical student Yamkela Mxokozeli, 23; fourth-year medical student, Siphesihle Mafungwa, 21; third-year education student Philani Danca, 23; and first-year medical student Lwakhe Matakane, 20.
An unsafe university environment criminalized all these students because of a lack of culture of keeping students safe, and a culture of no rules to keep them from drinking in their residences. We, Mr President, are complicit in their disrupted futures too.
South Africa would have been robbed of a future President if you would have fallen victim of any campus crimes, safe for the just civil protests during your time at the University of the North.
And at the dawn of 12 May 2017, South Africa was robbed of a black medical doctor in a country where there`s a shortage of black doctors. Worse still, two other students – one of which was an engineer – died in the same circumstances in August and October in 2017 at Walter Sisulu University.
Mr President, as an architect of our renowned constitution and the National Development Plan, you would know that the education of a black child from the kindergarten to university comes at a great cost to the state and to the parents.
With the state investment in free education from Grade 1 to undergraduate studies, it is indeed sad that our learners and students continue to study in environments that do not value the sanctity of their lives.
In 2014 Michael Komape, a Grade R learner died after he fell into a pit toilet at Mahlodumela Primary School outside Polokwane. similarly, in March 2018, another learner, five-year-old Lumka Mketwa died after falling into a pit toilet at the Luna Primary School in Bizana – the village of the late OR Tambo and Winnie Mandela.
To your credit, you need to be commended for your swift action in the commission of an audit of school sanitation facilities within three months, with costed emergency plans and timelines to address these challenges.
What is scary is that, had little Lumka survived her undignified death in the unsafe and unhygienic pit toilets – and went on to complete matric in 2029, the fate of her being a victim of rape and murder at any of our black universities would have awaited her in 2030 when she would have started her college or university year.
And yet, we hope that our NDP graduate outputs will have exceeded a 50% completion threshold by 2030.
Every year parents, communities (and the state), invest billions of taxes payers’ funds to send almost 200,000 first year students into tertiary institutions far from their homes of origin. Almost 50% of these first year’s dropout or fail in their first year, and only less than 25% ever successfully complete their studies.
With this low rate of graduation, coupled with the rampant prevalence of campus crimes – arson, murder, rape, assaults – South Africa stands no chance to break the stubborn grip of the cycle of inter-generational poverty. Even our social welfare system can never continue to arrest poverty – in a country where those who are sent to tertiary institutions to lift their communities out of poverty – are either killed or maimed in the course of their studies because of unsafe campuses.
Mr President, if you have time, visit any of our black universities on a Friday or Saturday night and see for yourself the “state of campus safety” in our residences.
You can choose to visit your alma mater in Mankweng or the University of Venda or visit the TUT Soshanguve South or North campuses and experience the daily risks that our young women are exposed to for survival. Or make an un-announced visit in the villages of e-Dikeni (University of Fort Hare) or Kwa-Dlangezwa (University of Zululand). Or visit both the Durban and Mangosuthu Universities of Technologies to witness for yourself the reckless student lifestyles. Or request Sam Bopape or Bongani Mkongi (both alumni of Peninsula University of Technology to accompany you to visit CPUT or UWC over the weekend to witness the free-for-all access into their campuses and the loud music and drinking sprees at these institutions.
These black universities – like their counterparts in the USA – are our last hope in our fight against poverty in the black communities. They are our Howard College or Spellman College in Washington DC and Atlanta, Georgia respectively. They are more than just universities – but represent the aspirations of our nation that will contribute to the growth of the new middle class in South Africa. They are centres of knowledge for black communities – free of racism – and ought to produce the next generation of black intellectuals who are truly patriotic and better understand the needs of our impoverished communities.
These institutions gave us you and me, they gave us Tambo and Mandela. They gave us Khama, Kaunda and Mugabe. These institutions represent who we are. They are us.
Every weekend and school holidays during the year, almost 500, 000 matriculants are studying hard to prepare for their final year matric exams in October/November 2018.
In the first week of January 2019 the Minister of Education and MEC`s of Education will gather once more to announce the results of a new cohort of matriculants who will proceed to further their studies at our public (and private) colleges and universities across the country.
Those who have worked hard enough to be accepted at our top previously white universities – like Wits, UP and UCT – stand a better chance to experience a relatively better and safer quality of student life.Whilst the rest will flock into black colleges and universities located in the villages, townships and peri-urban locations – where the quality of student life leaves much to be desired. And yet, it is the latter group that over 80% of our NSFAS grants and free education is spent. This black majority, will face the same unsafe conditions that faced Lwando Mantshontsho at Walter Sisulu Univ.
Lack of accountability and consequence – both on the side of the institutions and perpetrators of campus crimes – is one of the reasons for the increase in campus crimes in colleges and universities.
Institutions must be compelled by law to report publicly on their campus crime statistics – especially violent crimes like rape and murder. What is worse still is that we as a country do not have neither the campus crimes statistics (to know what we are dealing with) nor a National Campus Crime Prevention Plan to make our colleges and universities safe for learning and development.
It was because of the rape and murder of Jeanne Clery at Stoughton Hall at Lehigh University in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania in 1986, that the Jeanne Clery Disclosure of Campus Security Policy and Campus Crime Statistics Act in 1990 in the United States of America came about.
Through this Act, colleges and universities are required by law to publish their Annual Campus Security Report to current and prospective students and employees. Penalties are levied against institutions that fail to comply with mandatory reporting on their campus statistics.
South Africa needs to legislate our own Lwando Mantshontsho Disclosure of Campus Security Policy and Campus Crime Statistics Act as a matter of urgency, to enforce mandatory recording and reporting of all types of campus crimes.
As it was in the case of little Michael and Lumka, you need to sanction an audit into violent campus crimes within three months and obtain reliable statistics on campus crimes in the last three years (2015-2017) from the Department of Higher Education and Training (DHET).
And in the meantime, the Presidency needs to convene an emergency meeting with the management and SRC leaders of colleges and universities to account for their campus security plans to avoid violent campus crimes. The SAPS top management should also be invited to offer solutions and interventions into the campus crimes crisis.
Mr President, we also need to craft a National Student Support Services Plan to ensure that the capacity to strengthen the support systems, services and programs are effective to ensure student success.
Perhaps it is time to nationalize the various Student Affairs functions into one body that reports and is accountable to the Minister of Higher Education and Training for the social development and welfare needs of our student communities.
The merged Student Affairs personnel from the various colleges and universities in the various student cities, should work together to look after the welfare of students in the student city. If the system of a nationalized Student Affairs entity has worked in France since 1955, there is no reason for it not to work in our country especially as a developmental state.
We also need to invest in the Development of our Student Cities to ensure that the local municipalities that host our centres of knowledge are responsive to the needs of student communities. In these college and university towns, we need to establish coordinated and structured town and gown relations to ensure that the colleges/universities and local municipalities work together to support the needs of students including libraries, clinics, housing, transport and so on.
For instance, the City of Tshwane has about 100 libraries in colleges, universities and communities that can – with the right books – be used collectively to support all the 500,000 college and university students studying in the city irrespective of their institutional affiliation.
Ultimately, we need a structure collaboration between SAPS, Metro Police and campus protection services to ensure the safety of student communities in campuses, campus precincts and college/university towns. We need to extend the National School Safety Framework and the SAPS and DBE Protocol to be inclusive of colleges and universities.
In paying tribute to the late Zola Skweyiya, you said the following:
“In the memory of our distinguished stalwart, we need to unite and resist those who wish to delay our march to bettering the lives of our people and to render the best service to our people. To throw away the rule of law and disregard the constitution because our differences fall into the trap of enemies of change is not the way to go”.
Just like Prof. Stan Sangweni (who delivered a moving tribute at the state funeral of the late Dr Zola Skweyiya), I like you too Mr President, for your passion and commitment towards turning around the fortunes of our beloved country.
My eyes always swell with tears every time you speak from your heart. In true meaning of your name Matamela, you are truly “someone who evokes speechless wonderment”, every time you speak to the nation.
I impress on Mr President to evoke that God given oratory prowess to address the crisis of campus crimes in our colleges so that we can ensure that at least every cohort of students who have completed their 12 years of schooling, can also complete their post-secondary studies – and become true agents of radical, socio-economic transformation in our beloved country.
So, as we celebrate Freedom Day on 27 April 2018 we must remember how Lwando Mantshontsho was killed brutally on 12 May 2017 at Walter Sisulu University in Mthatha. We must also remember those many students who are murdered in our campuses annually, and many of our promising young women who are raped and sexually assaulted in the sanctuary of their campuses. We need to stand up, Mr President, to take steps to make our schools, colleges and universities safe and conducive for learning again.
Segomotso Sebokedi is the CEO of Safety Support Services NPC