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07 May 2019 | Story Valentino Ndaba | Photo Charl Devenish
Noko Masalesa
Noko Masalesa, Director of Protection Services, in conversation with students and stakeholders to plan a safe way forward.

Safety and security are human rights that constitute social justice. At the centre of the agenda at the University of the Free State’s (UFS) Social Justice Week held on the Bloemfontein Campus from 17-22 April 2019 were discussions about off-campus safety. Stakeholders agreed on an upgrade to security measures in order to ensure the success and wellbeing of the student population.

A call to students

Prof John Mubangizi, Dean of the Faculty of Law, in his capacity as representative of the UFS Rector and Vice-Chancellor, Prof Francis Petersen, expressed his view on institutions of higher learning no longer functioning as ivory towers. “For any initiative to succeed, collaboration is necessary between key roleplayers,” he said.

He aptly pointed out that: “We cannot underscore the importance of safety and security, not only for the university but also for the communities around us. What the university does benefits the community and vice versa. I pledge the university’s commitment to play a leading part to ensure that the collaboration works,” said Prof Mubangizi.

Beefing up security: Who is involved?

In view of the collaborative effort Prof Mubangizi alluded to, the engagement was twofold. First was the roundtable discussion facilitated by Protection Services which then escalated into a public dialogue where students had the opportunity to interact with external delegates.

The South African Police Services, Community Police Forum, Private Security, Mangaung Metropolitan Municipality, Provincial Commissioner, and Deputy Minister of Police were well represented in this critical conversation. Internally, members of Protection Services, Housing and Residence Affairs, Student Affairs, Institute for Social Justice and Reconciliation, Student Representative Council, and the Department of Criminology heard the plight of off-campus safety faced by students.

Changes in the horizon

The discussions culminated with recommendations which will see the future of student safety take a different direction. According to Skhululekile Luwaca, former SRC president, these include “the municipality’s commitment to immediately address issues such as street lights and enforcing by-laws, ensuring an integrated accreditation system, and drafting a policy for off-campus accommodation, running more crime awareness campaigns, and giving police patrols more visibility.”

In addition to resolving to set up a student safety forum with all the stakeholders, the Mangaung Metropolitan Municipality has invited the UFS to join Reclaim the City – a safety forum where practical solutions to crime are devised and implemented on a weekly basis.


News Archive

Emotional health of vulnerable children needs urgent intervention
2014-02-04



In South Africa, thousands of children under the age of 18 are orphaned as a result of HIV/Aids. Experts are worried that these orphans and vulnerable children will experience serious socio-emotional problems and behaviour disorders, should urgent intervention programmes not be implemented urgently.

A study was undertaken by the Centre for Development Support at the UFS, in conjunction with Stellenbosch University and the Houston University in America. The research found that in the Free State province alone, about 15% of orphans and vulnerable children showed signs of psychiatric disorders. Almost half of the children in the study showed signs of abnormal or maladjusted behavioural functioning.

The research team believes that the South African government and the numerous non-governmental organisations put too much emphasis on the physical needs of orphaned and vulnerable children and that their socio-emotional or mental wellbeing receives very little attention.

The nominal financial grant is a welcome relief for some of the needs of this risk group. Researchers are worried, though, that the lack of reliable and culturally-sensitive diagnostic methods for the early detection of psychiatric disorders may pose a challenge when the children reach puberty.

The current study is focusing on the detection of emotional behavioural problems even before adolescence. Questionnaires were distributed across the Free State at clinics, schools and non-governmental organisations dealing with these children. The questionnaires enabled researchers to establish the children's socio-emotional needs.

"Overcrowding in houses where orphans and vulnerable children often live is directly linked to poor socio-emotional health in children," says Prof Lochner Marais from the Centre for Development Support. "The state institutions offering programmes for orphans and vulnerable children overemphasise the physical and/or financial needs of these children. The programme provides, for example, food for the children, grants for the [foster] parents, assistance with school clothes and ensures clinic visits for the children. Of these, only the supply of food has a direct impact on the improved mental health of children."

The study provides, for the first time, a profile of the state of mind of this group, as well as the emotional impact of HIV/Aids – an "urgent matter" according to Dr Carla Sharp from the University of Houston's Department of Psychology. According to Dr Sharp, much more could be done to assist foster parents in addressing the emotional needs of these children. The early detection of behavioural disorders should be the key in intervention programmes.

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