Move follows government decision to consult around compulsory vaccination to enter public areas
Five South African universities are moving towards mandatory Covid-19 vaccination policies for the 2022 academic year despite criticism from some students.
As of 1 December the universities of the Witwatersrand, Stellenbosch, Western Cape, and Free State have approved some form of mandatory vaccination for the 2022 academic year. The University of Cape Town was the first to back mandatory vaccination but its official plan will be finalised only in December.
The news comes after South African president Cyril Ramaphosa announced in a national address that he was creating a task team to consult on broader vaccine mandates for public areas, such as public transport and gatherings.
On 23 November Blade Nzimande, the minister of higher education, science, and technology, had hinted that a university vaccine mandate could become system-wide. “Universities South Africa has prepared guidelines for universities to consider and guide them in their discussions [on mandatory vaccination],” he said in a written reply to a Parliamentary question by Economic Freedom Fighters MP Sinawo Tambo.
Nzimande added that the decision on mandatory vaccination will be the responsibility of university councils. “As far as I am aware there have been no formal requests for consultation with the department,” he wrote. Nzimande explained that his department’s priority is to “persuade people to volunteer to be vaccinated”.
Ahmed Bawa, the CEO of Universities South Africa, told Parliament on 1 December that only 30 per cent of South African students are currently vaccinated. He said South Africa is “tremendously behind the loop” compared to student vaccination in the United Kingdom.
“It is clear that there hasn’t been much success in encouraging young people to vaccinate and there might be a need to find other ways to encourage [them],” he said.
The universities going ahead with mandatory vaccination have slightly different approaches.
Stellenbosch announced on 30 November that it will publish a “vaccination rule” that will require proof of vaccination for student registration and staff employment. It will go through a consultation process before being presented to the university council for approval. Vice-chancellor Wim De Villiers said the policy will probably be implemented only from the second quarter of 2022.
The University of the Free State’s mandatory vaccination policy was approved by council on 26 November and will take effect on 14 February 2022. Vice-chancellor Francis Petersen said that the policy does not aim to “force vaccination on anyone” but to safeguard the institution’s right to protect staff and students on its premises.
Wits’ council gave the go-ahead on 25 November for a vaccine mandate to take effect on 1 January 2022. Unvaccinated students will not be barred from campus if they comply with daily health screening and weekly testing, which Wits will pay “for the first few months” for students who cannot afford it.
Wits’ student representative council has come out against the policy with its own version that many have criticised as unscientific and badly informed.
The University of the Western Cape on 25 November approved what it calls “soft and hard mandates” applicable from 1 January 2022. Students and staff must be vaccinated to enter campus and partake in university activities, but unvaccinated students may still register and use online or blended learning. Certain degrees will have a hard mandate, like dentistry, where all students will have to be vaccinated.