Mixed reactions to SA universities’ vaccine mandates

Several South African universities have announced they will be adopting a mandatory vaccination policy. The universities are the University of Free State (UFS), University of the Western Cape (UWC) and the University of Witwatersrand (Wits). The mandate applies to everyone on UFS campuses from February 2022. Wits and UWC’s policy is effective from January 2022. The Daily Vox team took a closer look at each mandate. 


University students’ thoughts on proposed mandatory vaccinations

University of Western Cape

UWC has an interim Covid-19 vaccine policy for next year. Effective as of January 1 2022, it will be reviewed in the first semester of the year. In its official statement UWC said an overwhelming majority of its stakeholders favoured in person teaching and learning. Returning to campus will also be in accordance with the best interests of students. UWC’s “soft” mandate means staff and students have to be vaccinated to enter campus or attend events. 

Unvaccinated students will be allowed to register for their degrees but won’t be permitted on campus/at events. This also applies to student placement at campus residences. The soft mandate for faculties like dentistry, nursing and pharmacy may not apply. In these instances a “hard” mandate will; students will have to be vaccinated to register. Their online teaching will continue. The details on applying for an exemption from vaccinating will be released soon. 

Donné, a final year BA student, said the university’s mandate is the right objective. She said many students do not have access to the same resources off campus.

“Students thrive when there is a sense of conviviality and interaction. Something that is not always achieved online. I think an institution taking the lead ensures that, and in the same breath ensures the safety of others,” she said. 

University of Witwatersrand

Wits University’ mandatory vaccination policy is also effective from January 1, 2022. It will be reviewed every three months and applies to the entire university community. The university wants to amplify the student experience with more social interactions. The senior executive team wants to open up social spaces for students to socialise safely. In its statement, the policy stated that the mandate would ensure the health and safety of its community. The entire Wits University community is required to be vaccinated. 

Those who cannot be vaccinated on medical grounds, or choose not to be vaccinated on constitutional grounds, must apply for reasonable accommodation. The application window is between January 1 and March 1 2022. If denied, appeals can be made to the Mandatory Vaccination Appeals Committee. 

Siphelele Sithole, a first year Biological Sciences student said people should be vaccinated but not forced to. He said the government has failed to educate the nation properly. The bigger task lies in educating everyone about the virus itself then the vaccine, he said. 

“A television show in one’s vernacular would be really helpful, and radio. Only having public service announcements in English is not enough,” Sithole said. 


Explaining the COVID-19 virus and vaccine in Setswana

University of Free State 

UFS will not allow any staff or students on campus who have not been vaccinated. This policy will take effect from February 2022. Students will be able to register up until February 14. Access to campus will only be granted to the vaccinated and those with exemptions. 

UFS rector and vice-chancellor Francis Petersen said they have a duty to ensure a safe, caring and healthy environment on the campuses. He said UFS will work with the government to accelerate vaccinations to limit Covid-19 transmissions. 

University of Johannesburg

This policy will apply to students, staff and any other visitors. Campuses and other university facilities will only be accessed by anyone with proof of vaccination. UJ has said it wants to protect its community and give access to its precincts. Allowing access to campus and its facilities had become critical for students with difficult socio-economic circumstances. Also many programmes require person-to-person contact. UJ will consider medical and religious exemptions according to the Constitution of South Africa.

Other Universities

Stellenbosch University (SU) is considering a mandatory policy. The university council will make its final decision by December 2. SU has been conducting Covid-19 vaccine awareness since February. It also established its own vaccination site serving the SU community and the broader public. The universities of Johannesburg (UJ) and KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN) have not yet released any mandatory policies. UKZN has said they expect staff and students to get vaccinated voluntarily. UJ management said in their discussions on mandating vaccinations, protecting its community was vital. Nelson Mandela University (NMU) has a vaccination site on campus. It has not made any announcements about a mandatory policy yet. The Rhodes University (RU) council approved the mandate in October. The RU policy applies as a registration condition for all students, staff, service providers and visitors.


We can’t banish COVID-19. But we can end the pandemic with vaccinations

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