In a news story on 26 October on Politicsweb (UCT suspends classes, News24, 26 October 2017), the University of Cape Town (UCT) said it has suspended all academic activity at the institution on Thursday and Friday, following a week of student protests.
The decision followed "extensive disruptions and barricades" on campus on Thursday morning.
"[Classes have been cancelled], primarily for the safety of students and staff and to avoid exposing staff and students to unacceptable disruptive behaviour.”
The suspension of face-to-face classes excluded the Faculty of Health Sciences and the Graduate School of Business. But for the rest “blended learning models would be implemented to allow for teaching off campus.”
The Student Representative Council, whose term is set to finish at the end of this week (end October 2017), previously said it would not allow a fee increase to be implemented.
It promised to "shut down" the university until the institution announces a 0% fee increase, among other things, and promised to escalate mass action in the weeks ahead.
On Wednesday (25 October), UCT students disrupted several tests and lectures, in an effort to "shut down" the campus. Several fire extinguishers were set off during the chaos.
In a report in The Herald (6 September 2017) UCT’s vice-chancellor, Max Price, said that "a planned shutdown of the university could cost the institution as much as R500-million.”
Price said this ahead of a mass meeting organised by #FeesMustFall activists on 6 September 2017. Price vowed that the university would expel students who disrupt academic activity during a shutdown planned for the next day.
At the time SRC representative, Lethabo Maunye, sent an e-mail to UCT management asking "whether the management council would have acted differently if had they had ended up in a hospital after being beaten."
“That can be arranged if it is to educate you on why private security has no place on campus.”
The Herald stated that since the #FeesMustFall and #RhodesMustFall movements started in 2015, UCT has not taken disciplinary action over the disruption of classes. In response Price said the university’s response would be different if the planned shutdown should continue.
“One key difference is that we can’t afford to stop the academic year‚ we don’t have the flexibility that we’ve had in previous years. The risk is that people who are already financially disadvantaged are potentially more disadvantaged in that situation‚” said Price.
“Secondly‚ we think we’ve acted with enormous good will since the last set of protests. We’ve had an agreement which was signed and which we’ve stuck to.”
He was surprised at the sudden unhappiness among students. He shouldn't have been. The appeasement of 2016 was well learnt. UCT entered into the above agreement in exchange for no further acts of disruption to exams.
What the article does not say is that disciplinary proceedings against certain students responsible for arson and damage to UCT property were held in 2016. However in terms of this agreement, clemency was granted to students who had been disciplined and/or criminally charged.
The agreement wasn’t entered into by or on behalf of the legitimate SRC. It was negotiated with and signed by a handful of individual students who had committed arson, damage and disruption.
Presumably UCT thought that capitulating to disrupters would guarantee peace and serve a progressive left agenda.
Now it appears that one of the leaders of the most recent disruptions, Masixole Mlandu, was a beneficiary of the clemency agreement. The agreement required the students to sign individual agreements that those who had been subjected to disciplinary action would receive clemency for specific 2016 offences. They also had to formally acknowledge their wrong-doing and commit to not repeating those actions in future.
The agreements also said if there were “disruptions of exams, academic activities, residences…,or the normal functioning of the university, and where there is no clear evidence is demonstrated that concerted efforts were taken to prevent such actions, the University may approach the mediators to request revoking the clemency.”
(By the way, why does the agreement empower the mediators to revoke clemency? They are not parties to the agreement.)
Presumably Mlandu’s clemency will be put to the mediators for revocation, that he will be subject to new disciplinary action, and that there will be a resumption of incomplete 2016 hearings and/or reinstatement of his expulsion. Presumably, the same will apply to any other signatories who breached the agreement?
And what has happened with last year’s criminal charges against Mlandu? When Mlandu was charged with malicious damage to property and had been expelled from UCT earlier in the year, the State argued that he should not be granted bail because he had two other cases pending against him.
Price wrote a letter to the court stating he was not opposed to Mlandu being released from custody. Malandu was granted bail. (UCT Fallist Masixole Mlandu arrested again for violence News24 4th November 2016). Daily Maverick published an article in late October/early November 2016 compiled from a series of interviews held with Price between 21 and 28 October 2016.
In it Price said the following:
“There were a few factors, but a key development was when Masixole got arrested for breaking into a building and intimidating staff. …He was not granted bail and was transferred to Pollsmoor. The SRC team said they could not continue to negotiate while he was in jail, so we didn’t oppose bail.
He did get bail. But the students recognised that we were losing time. Once the letter [stating that UCT would not oppose bail] was written, we understood they would come back to negotiations, except they didn’t. We haven’t had proper negotiations since [mid-October].
[The negotiating team] said they wanted to start again. We said only if you can guarantee no disruptions. They went back to their plenary to present our conditions, but they could not get such a mandate. We thought they would have the clout to be able to do so, but they did not.”
The only interpretation is that Mlandu was expelled, sought to reverse his expulsion, assisted (captured?) the SRC to negotiate with management and when the SRC claimed they couldn’t negotiate without him, Price wrote the letter not opposing bail.
There is nothing in UCT’s process of capitulating to Mlandu that is acceptable in a society governed by the rule of law.
Price vowed in September 2017 that disrupters would be expelled. Will they be? Have they been suspended pending disciplinary action? Or is there another agreement in the offing?
Sara Gon is a Policy Fellow at the IRR, a think tank that promotes economic and political liberty. Follow the IRR on Twitter @IRR_SouthAfrica.