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South Africa: One dead in stampede for university places

From Victoria Eastwood, CNN
January 10, 2012 -- Updated 1525 GMT (2325 HKT)
Students queue outside the University of Johannesburg to secure some of the last remaining university places on January 10, 2012.
Students queue outside the University of Johannesburg to secure some of the last remaining university places on January 10, 2012.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Thousands of students were waiting by the university in hope of winning a place to study
  • Eyewitness: "We saw a woman lying there, a dead woman"
  • The youth wing of the governing party calls for action to create more university places
  • South Africa's young people are struggling to find opportunities, an expert says

Johannesburg (CNN) -- A stampede on a university campus in Johannesburg Tuesday left one woman dead and several people injured, according to eyewitness reports.

The victim was the mother of one of many prospective students who had gathered in the early hours to enroll in the University of Johannesburg, according to the African National Congress Youth League, the youth wing of the governing ANC party.

Local media reported that 17 people were also injured.

Thousands of young people and their relatives had gathered outside the campus gates hoping to secure some of the last remaining university places or admission slots for students. Some chose to sleep outside overnight, desperate to sign up.

One eyewitness told CNN how the stampede began.

"There was a girl who tried to jump over the fence but unfortunately she tripped and the fence went through her from her back area so when the police came the people saw the police van as an excuse to jump over it to use it to go over.

"The first lady went over and I think that broke everything off because we were all looking at her, we never thought she would jump over. She jumped over, everybody screamed, clapped and started pushing their way through and that is when the commotion started happening."

Another witness recounted how a gate was opened "and then people started fighting and running towards the gate, and then there was a stampede. People were stepping on each other, and I was also there by the gate, but I was able to survive."

Sitting among the debris of shoes, ID cards and blankets -- all discarded during the stampede -- June Moloro told CNN how she was accompanying her grandson to the university when they also got caught up in the chaos.

"So we came here very early in the morning. We found that there was a stampede. We had to run back, we couldn't go in," said Moloro, who is retired. "After it was a bit tense and we saw a woman lying there, a dead woman. She was lying there. So it is a scary situation."

She told CNN that this was the second time she and her grandson had been waiting outside the campus trying to secure him a place.

In a statement, the ANC Youth League called on the government "to urgently put in place measures that will remedy the situation of many prospective students and fewer admission spaces in institutions of higher learning not only in U.J. (University of Johannesburg), but across institutions of higher learning in South Africa."

The situation is reaching crisis level, with the number of places available for higher education students now far less than the number of people qualified to take them, the statement said.

The Youth League will work with the South African Students' Congress and education ministers to try to find a sustainable solution, it added.

Some experts agree that there is an education crisis in South Africa.

"The crisis is one of young people who want opportunities and struggle to get them. There are not enough jobs, places at university, or alternatives like vocational colleges, nor enough money to pay for it all," said Graeme Bloch, visiting adjunct professor for the School of Public and Development Management at Wits University, another Johannesburg university.

The country also suffers from high levels of unemployment, particularly among young people.

Even after the ambulances had left the scene of the stampede, hundreds of people were still lining up behind the university's closed gates, hoping to be admitted.

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