On 10 January 2012, when late applicants for places in programmes offered by the University were queuing outside the main entrance gate to the Auckland Park Bunting Road Campus, the mother of one of the applicants
Ms Gloria Sekwena, was killed when the crowd surged forward after the gates had been opened.
Soon after this tragic event, the UJ Council appointed an independent Panel to investigate the incident and provided it with an investigation brief. The Panel was comprised of the following members:
- Justice Yvonne Mokgoro (retired Judge of the Constitutional Court – Chairperson)
- Dr Derek Swemmer (Registrar, University of the Free State)
- Mr Rick Meyer (events risk consultant)
The Panel conducted public hearings and interviewed UJ staff directly and indirectly involved in the late applications process and presented their report to the University in late May 2012.
FINDINGS AND RECOMMENDATIONS
The most significant findings of the Panel are as follows:
- The decision taken on 9 January 2012 to close the Canary Road entrance to the Bunting Road Campus and to rather use the Annet Road entrance on 10 January for the late applicants, in the view of the Panel, caused a dangerous situation, given the very large numbers of people queuing at the entrance gate.
- The provisions of the Safety at Sports and Recreational Events Act of 2010 (SASREA) were not complied with in all respects; had they been followed, the incident might not have taken place.
The most significant recommendations of the Panel are as follows:
- All events hosted by the University, or held under its auspices, should be organised in accordance with the provisions of the Safety at Sports and Recreational Events Act.
- An Events Safety and Security Committee should be activated and utilised to assist UJ to meet the legal obligations imposed by SASREA.
- UJ should strongly consider creating a post for an Events Manager or outsourcing the safety elements of planning for events.
The Panel also recommended that UJ should not abandon but rather reposition its applications and admissions philosophy, and that UJ “should not abandon the gap-filling role it has continued to play in advancing the notion that education is a ticket out of the lingering dire historical socio-economic circumstances of most of our students and prospective students.”
The Executive Committee of the UJ Council considered the Report on Thursday 16 August 2012 and took the following view:
1.It has taken note of the Report and of the key recommendations in the Report.
2.It noted with surprise the finding that the “single largest contributing factor to the catastrophe” was the decision to move the entry gate for the 10 January late applications process. It holds the view that indications at the time pointed to the likelihood of an even greater tragedy unfolding had this decision not been made.
3.The University has learnt some lessons from the incident and has noted with appreciation the steps that UJ Management has already put in place to implement the recommendations and to ensure that the University complies with all statutory requirements when large events take place at UJ. These include the following:
(i) A comprehensive Event Safety and Security Standard Operating Procedure has been approved by the UJ Management Executive Committee.
(ii) The position of UJ Event Safety Manager has been approved.
(iii) No “walk-in” late applications will be allowed in 2013. A dedicated communication campaign to inform prospective students of the many opportunities for electronic applications that exist is already underway and will be intensified towards year-end. An operational plan has also been designed to deal with prospective students who nevertheless arrive at UJ at the beginning of 2013 in order to apply late.
The University Council considered the Report and the views of its Executive Council on 27 September 2012. Both Council and Senate noted the Report and endorsed the views expressed by the Executive Committee of Council.
Finally, I wish to appeal to the media to assist the University in getting the message across that UJ will not entertain “walk-in” late applications in future. I trust you will assist us in disseminating that message as a public benefit so there will be no re-occurrence of the tragic events that occurred in January this year.
Professor Ihron Rensburg
Vice-Chancellor and Principal
4 October 2012