‘Interdicts disable dialogue’ – UCT picketers

Academics at UCT say having police and private security on campus is intimidating.

UCT staff and academics picketed outside the institution’s Bremner Building on Monday, calling for the institution to reverse its interim interdict against violent protest on campus.

The picketers said they were demonstrating in response to an “alarming increase in the militarisation” of the university campus. They don’t want a police presence on campus.

Lecturer Theresa Lorenzo said the interdict threatened students’ right to free speech.

The interdict prohibits the disruption of exams, libraries, research and university laboratories.

She said the interdict was designed to silence students, hand the campus over to police and infringe on the principle of academic freedom.

“We don’t think an interdict is a good thing for learning, as it brings an oppressive atmosphere. Interdicts disable dialogue,” she said.

Senior lecturer Wendy Burgers said the university was setting the protesting students up for failure.

“We want the interdict to be reversed or scrapped because it does not build good relations between students and staff,” said Ms Burgers.

University spokeswoman Pat Lucas said UCT had repeatedly said it supported and encouraged the “legal exercise of freedom of expression”.

She said UCT management obtained the interim interdict not to limit protest, but to ensure UCT “operations are protected and that we can conclude the academic year and exams”.

Ms Lucas said the interim interdict had been sought after protesters broke into offices and faculty buildings, broke windows and doors, intimidated staff into leaving their work and dumped sewage in a faculty building.

Two private security guards had been attacked, leaving one hospitalised.

Students had also stopped a Jammie Shuttle before stealing the driver’s keys and intimidating drivers into refusing to work.

“Such behaviour is unlawful and cannot be tolerated in an environment where people come to study and work.

“UCT has sought to limit the presence of private security and the SA Police Service on campus. However, the unlawful and violent behaviour of protesters makes it impossible to do so. UCT has a responsibility for the safety and security of students and staff members,” said Ms Lucas.

Last week, UCT vice-chancellor Dr Max Price sent a letter to the campus community, telling them that management preferred not to have obtained the interdict but there was no other alternative to the unlawful action by some of the protesters.

“We are deeply concerned for the safety of staff and students alike (including protesters) and we are extremely worried that the violence and unlawfulness that some protesters are engaging in presents a real risk to life and limb,” he said.