OPINION

Chumani Maxwele charge not about the poo throwing - Max Price

UCT VC says student was suspended over an allegation of of harassment and intimidation of a female staff member

Facts about the recent suspension of UCT student

13 May 2015

Dear colleagues and students,

I have been conscious of the need to keep the University of Cape Town community updated on matters relating to the recent protest action and our progress in relation to broader transformation issues. It is my plan to do so in the next few days.

I wish, however, to update you urgently on the recent suspension of a UCT student [Chumani Maxwele - PW]. This has now attracted media attention (see Cape Times report). I write to give you the facts.

Based on an allegation of harassment and intimidation of a female staff member that occurred on the public holiday, 1 May 2015, in the Mathematics Building on Upper Campus, a student was suspended last Thursday, 7 May 2015, and is facing a disciplinary hearing relating to that incident.

We regard disciplinary cases as confidential and would not ordinarily comment or reveal any details to anyone. The confidentiality aims to protect all parties involved in the process and to ensure fairness.

The student who has been charged chose to reveal his identity and charge sheet to the media and has in the process revealed the identity of the complainant, which the Cape Times decided to publish yesterday. This is most regrettable, since the complainant's version of events is not in the public domain, nor should it be; nor are the statements by the various witnesses.

This will inevitably lead people to a biased view of the incident. It is not in the interests of the student, the complainant or the institution for UCT to argue these points in the public arena. The student's statement is, of course, also under consideration by the legal office. We await the hearing where all these matters will be presented and tested on their merits.

The student also makes multiple claims and accusations in his statement to the media, which are not about the alleged facts of the case or the behaviour of the complainant, but impute unfair treatment or discriminatory practices to UCT. Some of these need to be answered now. I wish to make the following points clear:

The student was suspended and faces disciplinary action for an isolated incident. He has not been charged for any incident relating to his protest activities. We reject the claim that the charge is politically motivated or related to his protest activity.

The case will be heard by a proctor (legal background), a staff assessor (drawn from staff body) and an SRC-elected student representative.

The student has the automatic right to be represented by another student or a UCT staff member, or may apply to be represented by an external party.

The student states that he lodged a complaint of racial harassment last year and that his complaint has to date not been dealt with. This is not true. The complaint was indeed lodged against a fellow student in September 2014. This case was investigated and the legal office found no prima facie evidence for a case of racism.

The student was informed of this in December 2014. In January 2015 he made a new statement relating to the same incident, which differed from the first statement. On the basis of the second statement the legal office instituted charges, but the student accused was overseas studying. He returns in early June and the hearing will proceed as soon as possible after his return.

In terms of claims that protesters are victimized, it ought to be clear to everyone observing the protest action over the last weeks that UCT respects and protects the rights of all students to participate in vigorous protest action if it is peaceful. If the protest action is within the boundaries of the law and the university codes of conduct, there will be no charges brought against such students.

Finally, the student charged has publicly identified himself as the student who threw the poo at the Cecil John Rhodes statue and claims publicly that he is at the forefront of the Rhodes Must Fall movement, for which, he claims, he is being victimised and intimidated by UCT. I want to be unequivocal here. The charges are unrelated to any part of the protest action.

If the university had wanted to intimidate this student through disciplinary action, we certainly had other opportunities to do so. Despite enormous pressure on and criticism of UCT, we have publicly held to our position that he will not be charged for the poo throwing. We have not charged him for any incident related to the many activities of protest that he has participated in on campus over the last two months.

I trust that the above information provides some balance and clarification.

Sincerely,

Dr Max Price
Vice-Chancellor

Issued by UCT, May 13 2015