Three UCT staff members had been attacked within a period of two years, he reminded me. One had died and one resigned. "Do UCT staff feel safe under such circumstances?" he demanded.
Not knowing the details of the attack on Prof Caira, I was hesitant to answer. Certainly I didn't see any "trend" between the other two incidents - one of which took place in the context of a relationship between former colleagues, and the other which appeared to be an act of random misfortune - and I wasn't sure that these kinds of numbers over this period of time constituted a "trend". But then, I'm not a statistician.
Or a journalist. With newspapers to sell.
I seem to remember, though, that last year one staff member was killed on Campus, and two - that I know of - off Campus. That one was held up on Campus, and several elsewhere. That stuff disappeared from offices, the Library, or bags left unattended - as it did elsewhere. I wasn't quite seeing the newsworthiness here, unless it was that UCT Campus was in someway a microcosm of the society in which it was located. And wasn't that, in some way, what we were being nudged towards - being more integrated into the community, no longer "in the world but not of it", less of the ivory tower on the hill?
But this wasn't what the journalist wanted to hear. He wanted to know what steps the Union was taking to ensure that this didn't happen again. A million images flashed through my mind - Schwarzenegger clones with large toothed dogs patrolling the passages; retinal scan access control on all the buildings, offices and common areas, with metal detectors and X-ray machines; prison walls and towers on the perimeter; a moat and drawbridge, like the US embassy in Westlake; uniforms and cards with smartchips, allowing surveillance and mapping and instant location of any authorised person at any moment on some central system; CCTV cameras everywhere, watching... A bit like the 80s on steroids. (Though the image of the whole peninsula gridlocking because UCT had installed access control, backing up the M3 in both directions for lightyears, did provide some measure of amusement.)
"Don't you think," continued the journalist - clearly having been taught the value of the leading question - "that the institution is losing skilled people due to insecurity?" Well, two that we know of (one death, one resignation). Then again, I know of many others we've lost due to frustration at career prospects, unhappiness with the rate of Transformation, outrage at the levels of bureaucracy, displeasure at continual restructuring, boredom with mindless jobs, unhappiness with salary levels, frustration with bad line management, or - not through their own choice - retrenchment. "Insecurity" wasn't often cited in my presence as a reason for moving on. I'd heard only of the one case, in fact.
I was rather more concerned with what the media were already making of the recent incident. Each report made much of the alleged accomplices of the alleged perpetrator being "suspicious people" and thus easily identified, tracked and arrested. What constitutes a "suspicious person" is usually "someone who doesn't look right", which usually translates into some physical manifestation of prejudice... often, "someone who doesn't look like us". I'd like to think that our student and staff profile aspires to be truly representative, so that no one stands out particularly as not belonging, but clearly we're a long way from that if some people do.
Still, the interplay of collegiality, team work and persistence that saw the arrests happen so quickly speaks positively about the response of people on Campus to this kind of thing, and Prof Caira's return to the saltmine so soon after the attack demonstrates that the "trend" isn't as pervasive as the journalist wanted to believe.
Be safe, people, and keep an eye out for each other. Arb criminals looking for stuff to steal or people to mug are less likely act if someone's watching them.
Unless they're really stupid. And really stupid people _should_ stand out at a University, right?