We should draw lessons from Capricorn TVET stampede
THE unfortunate stampede that took place at the Capricorn TVET College n Polokwane, Limpopo last week should serve up call to all the stakeholders in the education sector: government, institutions, parents, students and politicians. While a handful of students escaped with minor injuries, the worst could have happened in the same way a mother lost her life in a similar stampede outside the University of Johannesburg a few years ago while trying to get her child space. Luckily, this time around, there were no fatalities.
Be that as it may, valuable (and uncomfortable) lessons must be drawn from the problem by all stakeholders. That stampede, which happened when throngs of students pushed their way into the college by ripping the palisade open, was not supposed to happen. It could have been avoided and it should have been avoided.
A lot of key role players must shoulder the blame for various reasons. Let’s start by peeling off this onion layer by layer. Firstly, there was really no need for President Jacob Zuma to make the announcement - on December 16 - so late in the year for universities to adequately prepare for free education. Equally, there was really no need for EFF leader Julius Malema to mischievously call on all and sundry to show up at the institutions of their choices regardless of whether they had applied and been admitted, simply because free education had been announced. It’s common knowledge that one has to apply and meet the criteria for university admission before they can be considered for free education.
Thirdly, there is really no need for students not to apply before registration. We need to stop this thing of doing things at the eleventh hour. Tertiary institutions open their application process in September the previous year and call on prospective students to submit their applications. Students are encouraged to apply using their Grade 11 or June matric results for the following year. Then they wait for the matric results to confirm if indeed you would be taking the reserved space you have.
By doing so, they avoid a situation where thousands of applicants will be queueing outside institutions in January, resulting in a stampede like the one at the Capricorn TVET College. Forth, there was really no need for institutions of higher learning to fold their arms for two years when all indications pointed to the possibility of free education. The #FeesMustFall movement and Zuma’s subsequent decision to institute a commission to look into the feasibility of it all should have been a sign and a call for institutions to prepare for in case it is implemented. Yes, Zuma’s announcement on the eve of ANC’s elective conference was part of politicking but we all knew of the possibility of it all.
Varsities and colleges should have been at least 90% prepared for any eventuality. For failing to do so, institutions must also bear the brunt of the blame. Their lack of actions and anticipation can be construed as intentional and an attempt to block students from attending.
Fifth, Capricorn College itself has to do some serious introspection and admit that it failed to properly plan. Had there been adequate planning, enough security personnel and situational awareness, this could have been avoided. Most institutions have implemented a system of barricading the entrances and keeping prospective applicants a few meters from the gates. That ensures the safety of applicants and staff. Situational awareness should have also informed those in charge at the College that the announcement will result in a huge influx. A decision should have been taken to do the registration and application at a central place like they did after the stampede. The decision to go Peter Mokaba Stadium should have been taken right from the get-go.
Finally, government’s handling of the situation since the announcement also leaves much to be desired. Those in the echelons of power waited until registration period opened before getting up off their tails and trying to lead. Steps and guidelines were supposed to be detailed in December, long before the matric results were released. The government was supposed to have met with tertiary institutions immediately after the announcement to say: Right, this is not the situation we had anticipated but none the less it’s here, how do we move forward to find a meaningful solution. They failed to do so.
What transpired was because those in charge failed to lead and they must take responsibility for that. We must ensure such never happen again going forward. Stop failing poor and working class children.