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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

Plant-strengthening agent enhances natural ability of plants to survive
2015-07-27

Drought, diseases, and fungi. These are factors that farmers have no control over, and they often have to watch despondently as their crops are damaged. In addition, the practice of breeding plants in special and strictly-controlled conditions, has resulted in crops losing the chemical ability to protect themselves in nature.

Researchers in the Department of Soil, Crop, and Climate Sciences at the University of the Free State (UFS) have developed an organic agent that restores this chemical imbalance in plants. It enables the plant to build its own resistance against mild stress factors, and thus ensures increased growth and yield by the plant.

ComCat®, a plant-strengthening agent, is the result of extensive research by the German company, Agraforum AG, together with the UFS. Commercialisation was initially limited to Europe, while research was done at the UFS.

“Plants have become weak because they were grown specially and in isolation. They can’t protect themselves any longer,” says Dr Elmarie van der Watt from the department.

Dr Van der Watt says that, in nature, plants communicate by means of natural chemicals as part of their resistance mechanisms towards various stress conditions. These chemicals enable them to protect themselves against stress conditions, such as diseases and fungi (biotic conditions) or wind and droughts (abiotic conditions).

Most wild plant varieties are usually well-adapted to resist these stress factors. However, monoculture crops have lost this ability to a large extent.

The European researchers extracted these self-protection chemicals from wild plants, and made them available to the UFS for research and development.

“This important survival mechanism became dormant in monoculture crops. ComCat® wakes the plant up and says ‘Hey, you should start protecting yourself’.”

Research over the last few years has shown that the agent, applied mostly as a foliar spray, subsequently leads to better seedlings, as well as to growth, and yields enhancement of various crops. This is good news for the agricultural sector as it does not induce unwanted early vegetative growth that could jeopardise the final yield ? as happened in the past for nitrogen application at an early growth stage.

“The use of synthetic agents, such as fungicides which contain copper, are now banned. Nowadays, options for natural and organic agriculture is being investigated. This product is already widely used in Europe, but because farmers are often swamped by quacks, the South African market is still somewhat sceptical.”

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