Safety and security challenges of the PSET System; with Deputy Minister

Higher Education, Science and Innovation

24 February 2023
Chairperson: Ms N Mkhatshwa (ANC)
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Meeting Summary


The Department of Higher Education and Training (DHET) briefed the Portfolio Committee in a virtual meeting on the safety and security challenges facing educational institutions at the university and college level.

The DHET had conducted research at these institutions on matters of security and energy, with some being able to provide it with the information they needed, but some were not cooperative. It was found that some institutions were spending more on private security and bodyguards for senior managers because of past and current security threats. The Department was working with the South African Police Service (SAPS) to establish more effective campus security measures that would benefit students and staff members.

Universities and colleges were being seriously affected by load-shedding. Learning proceedings were being disturbed, and institutions had to respond by installing systems that would work interchangeably with electricity. Some campuses had been able to install backup energy systems, but others were not sure how to respond to this crisis.

Higher Health has done a good job in implementing a gender-based violence (GBV) policy throughout the campuses. They were proud to state that the policy had been adopted by other African countries and recognised as the first departmental policy on GBV. They had capacitated staff and students from different institutions, and their plan was continuous and clear.

The Committee was pleased with the projects and progress that Higher Health had started, and their dedication to decreasing GBV and increasing campus safety. They were willing to support the cause and help where needed. The relationship that the DHET had with institutions was questionable to the Committee, as there had been no consequence management taken against institutions that had failed to provide it with the information they needed for them to be of assistance in areas like security and energy plans. It was concerning that some institutions were comfortable with not accounting to the Department on matters of such importance.

Meeting report

Ministry's opening remarks

Mr Buti Manamela, Deputy Minister of Higher Education, Science and Innovation (DHESI), said that the Ministry was concerned about the recent incidents in some of the campuses, as safety on campuses seemed to be taken for granted in this country. There were security risks for staff, students and all the stakeholders on campus, and they had not been as high as it was currently. There had also been reported cases of femicide outside campus, with the most recent one being at the Tshwane University of Technology. The Department had put in place measures, and institutional reforms and had had discussions with the Ministry of Police about gender-based violence and femicide (GBVF) on campuses. They aimed to create platforms that would make it easier to report GBV, and increase security by associating with private security to prevent additional cases.

Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) college vice-chancellors and principals' lives were at risk, following the incident in the University of Fort Hare where the Vice Chancellor was attacked. The Department was in discussion with Universities South Africa (USAf) to ensure the safety and security of vice-chancellors, senior managers and chief executive officers (CEOs) of campuses. It was worrisome that universities, as academic institutions, made senior managers vulnerable. He thought it was vital that they work together with the Committee to continue with work to deal with GBV and safety on campuses.      

DHET presentation on security risks to the PSET system

Dr Nkosinathi Sishi, Director General (DG), Department of Higher Education and Training (DHET), said that the results of the findings of a 2022 study on security risks to the post-school education and training (PSET) system showed that some campuses had private and general securities, that there were risks associated with leaders of universities, and that there should be a template for TVET colleges. There were common crimes that needed to be considered when universities were drafting their security programmes -- murder, sexual assault, common robbery, grievous bodily assault and violent protests. The Gauteng province led on crimes like common robbery and grievous bodily assault, while the Eastern Cape led on murder cases.   

Study findings:

  • According to the results, 48% of participating universities held awareness campaigns on safety and security matters that were held only once a year. This was inadequate, as safety was of utmost importance to all staff and students on campus throughout the year.
  • The results indicated that more students (25%) than staff members (9%) indicated that university management did not take safety and security seriously. This suggested that not all areas within the university were safe, particularly those areas frequented by students.
  • According to 28% of students and 24% of staff, lighting systems on campus were moderately maintained. This meant that there were occasions when the lights were not replaced for long periods, or certain areas did not have operational lighting systems.
  • The risk of violence may occur at the university entry/exit points, because 60% of universities allow public transport near key point areas such as the laboratories and auditoriums.
  • There was a lack of clear emergency exit signs from 60% of the participating universities, elevating the risk that students may struggle to exit buildings during a fire emergency.
  • Dual security systems, such as card and fingerprint, should be used where possible, or card and video surveillance cameras.

20 out of 26 universities responded to the call from the Department for participation. The universities that did not respond were the University of South Africa (UNISA), the University of Limpopo (UL), Sol Plaatje University (SPU), the Central University of Technology (CUT) and Nelson Mandela University (NMU). The University of Zululand (UNIZULU) and the University of Johannesburg (UJ) had a noticeably higher level of private security and the University of Venda (UNIVEN) spent the most on bodyguards.

Ms Lulama Mbobo, Deputy Director-General (DDG): Corporate Services, DHET, said that in 2021 the divisional commissioner of the South African Police Service (SAPS) responsible for protection had approached the Department with a proposal to conduct security assessments in some institutions of higher learning. Their purpose was to develop a blueprint for peace at educational institutions. A survey was conducted at TVET colleges as the project's first phase in 2021, and universities were set to follow. In December 2022, the SAPS sent a proposal that the Department was still going through, together with the principals, to confirm the standards and policies stated in it. The document captured all-around campus security, starting from management, security plans and perimeter security. In KwaZulu-Natal, there were currently five principals who were receiving protection services from private companies as a result of threats that had been directed at them, and the Department was committed to supporting them and their safety.

Higher Health on GBV security risks in the PSET sector

Dr Ramneek Ahluwalia, Chief Executive Officer (CEO), Higher Health SA, said that the DHET was the first on the African continent to have a departmental policy on GBV, and the African Association of Universities used it.

The DHET GBV policy goals were to:

Ÿ Create an Enabling Environment to inform, prevent, support and monitor GBV in PSET Institutions.

Ÿ Promote the safety of students and staff by putting in place comprehensive awareness and prevention programmes intended to raise awareness of policies and services addressing GBV.

Ÿ Put supportive and reparative procedures for complainants/survivors in place.

In 2021, offices responsible for rape protocols and procedural guidelines were established. The code of ethics consisted of dignity, compliance with policies and banning hate speech. In 2022, minimum standards protocols and forms were completed to accompany GBV guidelines, covering areas such as staff-student relationships, statements of compliance, protocols on private accommodation, protocols on safety and security, and protocols on-campus accommodation.

Dr Ahluwalia outlined the Higher Health roadmap for 2022/23.

From May to August 2022, five new draft protocols were developed through consultation, with capacity-building of relevant stakeholders, including campus security, student leadership, SASSOP, residences, the Association of College and University Housing Officers - International (ALCUHO-I), the South African Vocational Education and Training Student Association (SAVETSA), the South African Union of Students (SAUS), and staff.

In October 2022, new draft protocols were taken to the Higher Health Board of Directors. In November, the new draft protocols were taken to the GBVF technical task team (TTT), incorporating the Higher Health Board of Directors' feedback, and returned to the Board of Directors with consolidated feedback following the engagement with the GBVF TTT on 12 December.

On 7 February, the new draft protocols were workshopped and reviewed at the GBVF TTT, led by the Deputy Minister of the DHET, the Deputy Minister of Police, and the Deputy Minister of Justice. Thereafter it was to be released for public consultation, training, and capacitation at an identified date.

Impact of the GBV work

Ÿ Students were capacitated on the Higher Health GBV second curriculum.

Ÿ Students and staff were assessed, using the Higher Health GBV risk assessment tool to assess their risk of experiencing GBV.

Ÿ Staff and students had been assisted by Higher Health GBV support services.

8 748 PSET staff have been capacitated to date. These included university, TVET and community education and training (CET) colleges' management and senior staff; senior residence staff, including wardens and house mothers; frontline staff, including in-house campus security and protection services, and student support services, student representative councils (SRCs), SAUS and SATVETSA.

DHET on sectoral plan in response to load-shedding

Dr Marcia Socikwa, DDG: University Education (DHET), said that 18 out of 26 universities had responded to a survey the Department conducted about their response to loadshedding. The institutions that did not participate in the survey were UNISA, the Vaal University of Technology (VUT), UNIZULU, Wits, Sefako Makgatho University (SMU), Durban University of Technology (DUT), Rhodes University (RU) and North-West University (NWU). Two institutions were adjusting their schedules to load-shedding, ten had developed plans to ensure that the system remained stable, eight were in the process of developing plans, and one did not know how to respond. 14 institutions had procured generators, five had established a hybrid solution, and two had not implemented any measures.

The Department has come up with the following measures as a way forward:

  • Host a workshop led by the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR).
  • Publish an energy management guideline that would help with energy audits, energy saving measures, energy management systems and building efficient energy saving systems.   
  • Require universities to report annually on the progress in developing energy management systems.
  • Pursue a blended learning policy to support a seamless learning experience.


The Chairperson said that the reason why they were having a holistic conversation on security was because there was a lot to be discussed around the issue, and that there was still more to be discussed in the future. She was concerned that some institutions had not participated in the surveys, which prevented the Department from assisting them with their security needs. She suggested that the Committee intervene. She was interested in the risks associated with students, staff, vice-chancellors and principals. What measures had been taken against those risks, the financial implications of hiring security and the progress to prevent those risks? A private meeting should be held with the Department and the security sector to discuss a way forward. She suggested that having student and staff access cards was important to limit the number of people going in and out of campuses.

It was concerning that CET colleges did not have sufficient security interventions, considering that most classes were in the evenings. She urged that ward councillors, principals and involved stakeholders work together to find measures to increase security. It was concerning that the Eastern Cape, Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal had high security risks, and she suggested that safety and security should be included in maintenance plans.

She asked if private securities adhered to the cultures and policies of institutions compared to insourced securities. How could one institutionalise some of the protocols that Dr Ahluwalia had spoken about? Had they formed part of the policies in universities, and what kind of investment was needed to enable these programmes to find greater expression? It would be important to ensure that the safety and security criteria that Higher Health was speaking about were institutionalised at private accommodation facilities before accrediting them.

What had become the interface between the Tribunal and the SAPS, and what had been the reception to the student-staff relationships that should take place? How were student protests managed on campuses, and at what point did they see the need for SAPS or private security? Over-militarisation of campuses had become an issue that disturbed the learning by students, as they lived in fear of the security personnel and their weapons being all over the campuses during the day.

She had found slides 13 and 14 of the ‘Security Risk to the PSET System’ presentation confusing and asked for clarification. The phrase “peer educator” instead of “peer counsellor” was very questionable, and a spreadsheet of how many peer educators were employed across institutions was requested.    

Ms K Khakhau (DA) wanted to further understand the nature of the threats that the vice-chancellors and principals faced. She needed a breakdown of the relationship between the SAPS, private security companies and campuses. She said there seemed to be a lack of synergy between these three entities, as crime rates were increasing. The procedural guidelines from Higher Health were appreciated, but they would remain a wish list if nothing was done to ensure increased security. There seemed to have been a lot of conversations and plans made with no action, and it seemed like there was no sense of urgency around this issue. It would be good to get a report on which institution was lacking in which section of the policy. She asked Dr Socikwa to provide a breakdown of the institutions tackling load-shedding, inclusive of TVET and CET colleges. She said Dr Sishi could not be a DG when institutions were comfortable not to do or participate in things that he had requested.

Mr T Mogale (EFF) asked if there had been a change in the rate of crime at UNIZULU since the security personnel had been employed. A quarterly report of incidents would be appreciated to track the impact of security measures on campuses, and why UNIVEN had spent so much on bodyguards needed to be provided. Who were the bodyguards for, and how much did the institution spend on general security? There were videos circulating from the University of Fort Hare that showed a shocking amount of overgrown grass, which could increase the crime risk. He urged institutions to take note of maintenance, as it played a big role in security. What would be the cost for universities to install backup generators for loadshedding? What happened to private security companies that terrorised students on campuses?  

Ms J Mananiso (ANC) asked how the GBV cases were reported to establish which way victims were more comfortable with. There was a need to discuss the safety and security issues in a private meeting. Institutions not participating in surveys was unacceptable, and the intervention of the Committee with the specific institutions that had failed to participate was needed. She commended Higher Health for the programmes that they had established and planned. She noted they were not far from establishing safe spaces, and urged the Committee to support their cause. It was important to know who was in charge of ensuring policies were implemented in Higher Health, as there seemed to be no monitoring of implementation by other institutions. She pleaded to the Department to communicate regularly with the Committee about new developments and projects, because they sometimes got informed by the media.

Ms N Marchesi (DA) asked if there were protocols that institutions had to follow concerning security personnel that carried weapons that may be traumatising to students and staff on campus. Was there a discreet manner to carry out protection for vice-chancellors, principals and senior management without showing weapons to everyone who entered a campus's premises? Were South African intelligence units alert to the threats that VCs were under, and what were they doing about it? She said that security measures must be uniform throughout the institutions, and that policies should be established for security personnel.

She asked how much hydrocells and solar panels cost, how much energy they could transmit, and how long they could last.  


Dr Sishi said that education institutions were in communities where there was crime, so it was important that the Department and the SAPS intervene by making resources available to them to reduce crime. He had had communications with the Fort Hare University Vice Chancellor, and they concluded that the reported incidents were targeted at the supply chain management, because thieves wanted resources. Principals walked around with bodyguards because there was a need for them to, and all the information that he got from now on would be shared with the Committee. He agreed that consequence management was an issue, and commented that the Department would do better to ensure accountability.   

Mr Sam Zungu, DDG: TVET Branch, DHET, said the work that Higher Health had been doing was commendable, as they had helped the Department to decrease the challenge of capacity. There was a challenge with how student support services were structured in colleges, and implementing the post-provision norms addressed it. He agreed that maintenance played a big part in safety, and they emphasised that to the institutions, but it seemed like more resources were required to put maintenance in place.

The threats that led to campus management needing more security would be provided in a written response. The ‘Amadelakufa’ gangs surrounded the KZN area, and that was a threat on its own to the campuses. The Department would enforce more consequence management and implement reactions to non-compliance, as it was important for the institutions to comply with the Department’s policies.    

Dr Socikwa said it was difficult to present solutions when there was insufficient data to make informed decisions. She had followed up directly with the institutions that had given out little to no data during research, and they had not complied. Another way to find an implementation plan that all institutions would use was to involve the communities in which the institutions were situated.

She understood that the cost of the security resources got inflated, especially when there was an urgent need for resources, because suppliers felt that institutions had a lot of money waiting to be spent, and it was hard for the institutions to fulfil their security needs. The Department was planning to help the institutions that needed financial help, but because of insufficient data from the surveys they had conduced, it was going to be hard to know which institutions needed help.

UNIVEN had reported the threats against its VC in writing to the Department, and it had been recommended that bodyguards should be hired. She hoped that the security workshop that would be held the following week would provide them with more data to establish which institution lacked implementation guidelines so that they could make informed decisions based on facts.

UNIZULU had not been able to confirm if the event of a student being shot in the eye by security personnel had actually occurred, but they would investigate further on the issue.

Overgrown grass was a disturbing sight, as many things could happen under that grass and weapons could be hidden, so she emphasised the importance of maintenance. She hoped that they would establish policies that would drive institutions to report cases uniformly to avoid finding out about incidents in the media.

Bodyguards did not necessarily wear uniforms as part of their security measures. There should be a limit to the number of bodyguards per institution to reduce costs. Supply chain managers needed more security, as they were more targeted.

Cost and capacity information on hydrocells and solar panels would be presented in a written response.

Slides 13 and 14 on the “Security Risk to the PSET System” explained the financial expenditure of institutions on security, and showed how different institutions were faced with different risks. Different budgets were allocated to different institutions, depending on the risks they had stated in their risk analysis. As seen in the presentation, some institutions did not participate and there were no funds allocated to them.

The VCs of UNIVEN had indicated that the construction projects that had taken place over the last few years had increased crime around the campus, thus the need for more security. She said she would cover more questions in a written response.

Ms Lulama Mbobo, DDG: Corporate Services, DHET, said the Department would be working on the consolidation of one implementation plan on the minimum physical security standards. They were working closely with the SAPS at the national and provincial levels and assisted in conducting some of the assessments. The plan would be a roadmap covering the sector and conducting those annual assessments as expected. Educational institutions were supposed to be gun-free areas, but spikes of violent protests, the killing of staff and students left no option but to have guns to protect lives. They hoped that their plan would restore institutions to being gun-free again. They were introducing posts for security officers in institutions, but the availability of funds constrained this.

They had already introduced security posts at some TVET colleges. A survey done on corporate service security indicated most colleges were using private security. The Department was willing to work with colleges to assess the nature of contracts they had with private security companies and see whether they could work towards a hybrid mode and introduce security posts. The new campuses were responsive regarding security requirements, and not much work needed to be done with the older campuses. In terms of the Public Service Regulations, it was a requirement that all staff working in supply chain management and finance must be vetted.         

Dr Ahluwalia said that the biggest risk to all the work of the protocols and procedural guidelines remained the need to institutionalise them. Higher Health, with the help of the DHET, had been able to do a top to bottom and a bottom-to-top approach. The bottom-to-top approach was where a community of practices was established with the entire security environment -- directors, private security, all the residents including the private accommodation, student unions, and SRC presidents. They needed all the help they could get from the Committee and the Ministry to implement these practices, as they believed they would benefit all parties involved. They were proud to see communities willing to participate, and they were patient in the belief that the systems would eventually come into place in due time.

He agreed that there should be a term “peer counsellors,” but said the existing term had been used for over 20 years. There were 50 peer educators per TVET college, 150 per university, and 1 500 per CET college, and he would provide the Committee with a spreadsheet showing their allocation. The Higher Health model had been built on “reach one and teach ten” -- each educated person should have an impact on at least ten people from their communities so that higher education could be an inspiration to the youth.

There was a co-curriculum comprising six modules, one based on GBV, to educate students about gender issues that society dealt with. TVET and CET colleges offered this curriculum, offering both face-to-face and online learning. He was happy to inform the Committee that they just launched a full online digital programme, and hoped this innovation might get a lot of worldwide attraction.

He finally noted that he would submit some responses in writing for the Committee.

The Chairpersons thanked all the attendees and participants for their contribution to the meeting.

The meeting was adjourned.


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