Town and gown co-operation in Stellenbosch

Professor Wim de Villiers, rector of the University of Stellenbosch; Advocate Gesie van Deventer, Mayor of Stellenbosch; and George Steyn, chairperson of the council of the University of Stellenbosch.

Concerns around safety and security, the ongoing water crisis and accurate student numbers have prompted town-and-gown cooperation at the highest level in Stellenbosch.

Advocate Gesie van Deventer, the Mayor of Stellenbosch, and Stellenbosch University rector Professor Wim de Villiers, led discussions at the bi-monthly Rector/Mayor Forum in the Boland town on Wednesday last week. They were joined by senior officials of the municipality and univeristy.

“We cannot act in isolation. Crime, the low dam levels and the need for service delivery affect us all,” Ms Van Deventer said.

Safety and security

The meeting was briefed about a spate of robberies in and around Stellenbosch recently. ATM users, shops in Eikestad Mall, cyclists on Helshoogte Pass and hikers on Botmaskop have all been targeted.

Counter efforts are coordinated through the joint monitoring and advisory committee on crime, which also includes the South African Police Service and the local magistrate’s court.

However, the meeting also called on individuals to take personal responsibility for their own safety.

The university shared information about its frequent communication with students and staff on safety and security matters, and about a special awareness drive which took place on campus on Friday August 4. Lighting on campus and on safe routes to and from town is also receiving attention.

Being counted

The municipality is working with South African Local Government Association (SALGA) and StatsSA to get a new certified dataset of census numbers for the greater Stellenbosch area.

This is being done in an effort to account for the students that is currently not reckoned into the population numbers for the Municipality, as well as for the growth in informal areas.

The municipality requested the assistance of the university to verify the number of students who permanently live in Stellenbosch as well as those who commute in and out of the town on a daily basis.

When these numbers have been certified by the Statistician General, the municipality will be able to use the dataset to apply for an increase in its equitable share from the National Treasury.

This will result in funds to spend on service delivery as well as improved planning for infrastructure and spatial development.

Water crisis

The municipality warned that the water crisis is far from over despite recent rains. Dams could run dry by March next year if rainfall this season follows the same pattern as in 2016.

A two-pronged approach is being followed to deal with the situation – reducing water consumption, and increasing supply.

Water restrictions remain at Level 4(b), level 4 water tariffs are in effect, fines will soon be issued following the promulgation of a new municipal by-law, more monitoring equipment is being installed, “war” is being waged on leaks, and water pressure might be reduced at night.

The municipality has a long-term drought response plan, which involves the readying of existing boreholes in Stellenbosch to supply a constant flow of water should the need arise.

Additional upgrades to existing infrastructure are also being considered to purify wastewater.

Steps taken by the university include removing taps from baths in residences and a pilot project to reuse grey water.

It has also appointed the same consulting engineers as the municipality to ensure optimal use of all water sources, and social media is being used to share water saving tips.

The municipality has made its water projects available to the university as a “living laboratory” for students and researchers, and the university’s start-up incubator, LaunchLab, has just concluded a water challenge.

One of the innovative solutions out of this collaboration has already reduced a local primary school’s water consumption by 40 percent.

“By working together as university and municipality, we stand a better chance of successfully dealing with our mutual challenges,” Professor De Villiers said.