A wave of student protest has once again swept across universities in the Western Cape including at the University of Cape Town (UCT) where armoured SAPS vehicles were seen moving onto campus to stifle protesters last week.
The protests started after the report of the Commission of Inquiry into Higher Education and Training, commissioned by President Jacob Zuma in 2016, was leaked.
Last Wednesday, October 25, UCT and Cape Peninsula University of Technology (CPUT) students marched to Parliament, demanding that fees be banned and that the report be released.
UCT students also marched on upper campus last Tuesday, October 24, disrupting several lectures and causing examinations to be stopped.
Alarms were set off and buildings had to be evacuated. The protesters handed a memorandum with several demands to UCT vice-chancellor, Dr Max Price, which included asking for a 0% fee increment to be pronounced by an emergency council sitting and the immediate release of the fees commission report.
UCT professor Loretta Feris responded to the demands, stating that the university understands the impact of increased fees to students and their families, however, it has no realistic alternative in the absence of public funding.
“Our work in the free education planning group unit led by students continues with its work around seeking viable options for free education. UCT continues to call on government to immediately release the fees commission report. In this regard we agree with the SRC that the delay creates uncertainty,” said Ms Feris.
The university also released a statement cancelling face-to-face classes until further notice, stating that their concern is primarily for the safety of students and staff and to avoid exposing them to unacceptable disruptive behaviour.
Private security was also deployed onto campus to assist with campus protection alongside SAPS and the Public Order Police who came onto campus as a result of the blockages of public roads by protesters.
Classes resumed at UCT yesterday, Wednesday November 1.
SRC chairperson Seipati Tshabalala responded to the action taken by the university on the SRC Facebook page, saying that the university citing the environment on campus as being non-conducive to academic activity is “fear mongering”, which she said is completely unwarranted.
“It is saddening that it [UCT] has not learnt how antagonistic, bordering racist their rhetoric can be. There has been no violence on any student or staff member. There is no indication of such happening either. All the institution is doing is creating a perception of violent protesters, so that they can justify deploying private security on the campus, which will put the campus in an even worse position in terms of functionality.
“The institution wants to justify it following in the footsteps of CPUT and the University of Free State. This will cost the institution millions. It has cost UCT R24.28 million to employ private security over the past two years,” read the statement.
Despite the SRC’s denial of disruption, many students remarked that they were feeling unsafe and that the security measures were warranted as some groups of pupils were violently removed from lecture halls.
Wayde Finch commented, saying: “A group of my fellow colleagues were violently thrown out of a lecture using fire extinguishers. Fear is understandable.
Setting off fire alarms causes disruptions and requires costly man hours to ensure the building is in fact safe, costing more money. A peaceful protest with no violence, intimidation or criminality would be much more effective as more students would join the fight.”
Andile Maps: said “Look around, be honest with yourselves, do you think we feel safe around you chanting in our classrooms, disrupting our exams after studying so hard? Stop imagining things and be realistic. We are not here to support your politics dreams, but to get our degrees and support our families.”
Ryan Charles le Roux said: “Forcibly removing students from venues is in complete violation of their safety. Just stop lying, the reason for the “militarization” of campus is because protesters become violent time and time again.
“You stated how you will be peaceful yet still overturn rubbish bins in the Law building and remove students and lecturers from venues against their will.”
UCT media liaison manager, Elijah Moholola, said that an emergency meeting of the senate was held on Thursday October 26 to discuss contingency measures to secure the remainder of the 2017 academic year and the upcoming examination period. The meeting offered support for two courses of action to be explored.
“A University Assembly will be called where all members of the university community would be given an opportunity to voice their view on the possibility of free higher education and the form it could take, to establishing UCT’s position, or variety of positions, on the matter which could guide future engagements with national government.
“It was also noted that in the UCT context blended learning method which is currently replacing face-to-face teaching has many drawbacks.
“Faculties and departments are asked to implement alternative modes of delivering the teaching material to complete the academic year.
“Regardless of how long classes are shifted to other modes of teaching and learning, the executive is determined that the exams in November will take place as planned and that it can provide the necessary security required, if still needed,” said Mr Moholola.