By Sinenhlanhla Ngwenya (6 mins read)
In a 1963 autobiography, Blame Me on History, penned by South African author William Modisane, it has been revealed that the criminal is a character of superiority, a villain and known as the ‘tsotsi’.
Now, the realities of crime become more real when away from home, especially when one is easily identified. The environments in and around universities present such realities.
Modisane explains that the tsotsi was part of the increasing population of Johannesburg since the 1950s. So, here is an inevitable truth: university students are not safe.
The tsotsi’s trail
When walking casually outside gate four of UJ’s Auckland Park Kingsway campus (APK), Tshepang Mokitle, 21, was suddenly approached by a mysterious vehicle. Mokitle says within the vehicle were four coloured men; one of them – who was tall, bulky and angry – came out of the car, pulled out a large knife and demanded her phone. Without hesitation she handed it over and the attacker ran into the car and drove off.
“He looked like a character from a movie. He had a scar on his face also,” Mokitle recalls. And she’s not alone.
Sibongile Ngoma, 22, who was a third year student in psychology at the time, was victimised exactly outside her accommodation building in Auckland Park, Johannesburg, when she’d received a notification that her uber had arrived.
“I walked to the uber, opened the door and just before I got in someone snatched my phone out of my hand. I ran after him but he got into a [VW] polo and they drove off,” she remembers.
Ngoma adds: “I just dropped down and cried because that phone was new after my other phone was stolen and there were people around me but no one helped me.”
Ngoma still suffers anxiety attacks. She suspects the ordeal might have affected her academics as her marks had dropped. Now she never walks around with her phone and if need be, keeps it hidden in her bag.
The discovered trail
Tshepo Mokoena, 23, is a car guard at the Auckland Park Academy of Excellence. He routinely works at the gates facing the long length of Richmond Avenue. Not only does he guard the cars within the academy but witnesses the inevitable truth; crime.
He claimed that too much happens on Richmond Ave. Almost daily, he witnesses the actions of the tsotsi, but this time done differently as attacks are executed in fancy cars like BMWs and Range Rovers.
He explains a typical mugging as follows: a car would drive up the road, drop off one of its own and U-turn at the end of the road and then drive back to collect their own, who at that time had attacked a student, repossessed either a cell phone or laptop and then drives off.
Already knowing these tactics, Mokoena identified a false uber on the 8th of May 2019 approaching a female student. The attackers took the student’s bag containing a laptop, but Tshepo was there and ran in for the rescue.
He stuck his upper body into the driver’s open window, grabbed the stolen bag resulting in him being struck on the head with a sharp object. Although injured, the bag was retrieved and he got three weeks off work to heal.
“Students must just be careful,” he warns.
Judas another witness
Mokoena is not the only one who watches Richmond Ave. Judas Sambo is a street vendor who is at the end of Richmond Ave, selling vegetables, fruits and snacks at the corner and has been doing so for ten years. The student community has been his loyal group of customers and although he’s mostly seated in his cream white Cressida, he is a witness to the works of the tsotsi.
“I once saw men in a car and one of them came out and approached a girl standing by The Richmond (student accommodation). He spoke to her and then suddenly grabbed the phone and then ran back into the car and they drove away,” said Judas.
“Students must always be vigilant. Johannesburg is a high crime city; UJ is in Johannesburg and so, there is no way that students can be immune,” said UJ protection service compliance, risk and investigation consultant Busi Mtsweni.
The walking target
Sam Khupe, the residence manager at the Richmond Student Accommodation told The Open Journal that it is advisable for students to walk in groups and not put on earphones.
There are security response teams that are always patrolling around the accommodation and that they have tightened security outside the building. Students are making themselves targets by wearing earphones and not being focused when walking, claims Khupe.
“For you to keep from being a target, you need to keep focused and avoid distractions. It is also advisable to have emergency numbers handy,” he says.
Street safety tips
The UJ Find Your Way page has provided the following tips for street safety:
- Walk with other people whenever you can
- Let a friend or roommate know where you are going
- Keep your bag closed and hold onto it at all times
- If you are not sure about directions, look for someone in uniform (preferably) a policeman and ask for help
UJ has provided possible safe routes which are advisable for students to use. These routes have 24 hour patrolling services like Raid. They are there to limit street crime and are used as a student escort for students travelling at night. Safety routes are said to be reduced and students must then familiarise themselves with the available routes.
Safety routes around APK
- Ditton street between UJ APK Campus to UJ APB Campus
- Hampton Street between Voorentoe High School and Helen Joseph Hospital
- Kingsway Road between Sophiatown Residence and Helen Joseph Hospital
- Lewes Road between Glouchester Residence to Helen Joseph Hospital
- Twickenham Avenue between UJ APK Campus to UJ APB Campus
Safety routes around DFC
- Saratoga Street between Lesedi Residence and the JHB Stadium
- Beit Street between Nugget Street and Joe Slovo
- Siemert Street between the Main Gate and End Street
- Sherwell Street between Sherwell Gate and Shoprite
In the event of an emergency students should contact these following numbers:
- SAPS: 10111
- Metro hotline: 086 056 2874
- City of Johannesburg: 011 375 5911
Reporting by Sinenhlanhla Ngwenya. Editing by Magnificent Mndebele & Gaby Ndongo. Feature image by kat wilcox from Pexels.