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Saturday, May 21, 2022

UCT students: We will meet in court, Mr. President

Thabo Mohlala

With calls for the release of the Fees Commission report gaining traction, University of Cape Town (UCT)’s students are contemplating legal action to force President Jacob Zuma to release the report to the public.

Naledi Mbaba, SRC member confirmed that they were looking into legal action. She has been tasked with looking into the legalities related to the matter

“We are exploring the legal route because the president is just not prepared to move on this matter,”Mbaba told Inside Education. She said they were currently in the process of briefing their legal team and tightening potential loopholes.   

UCT’s SRC president, Seipati Tshabalala said: “As students, we feel disheartened that the government has not given us an answer or release the fees commission report to speak to this issue. And that shows the lack of interest in addressing our concern.”

Mbaba said this would not be the only action taken saying they would continue to engage in parallel actions “on the ground”. They aim to mobilise students and force shutdowns of operations on campus.

On Thursday they achieved their objective. Following demonstrations and disruptions of classes and examinations, the university was compelled to suspend classes. Police have since been called in to join the private security company that was already deployed on campus.

UCT’s media liaison Elijah Moholola said: “The University of Cape Town has suspended face-to-face classes on the upper, middle, lower and evening campuses. This excludes the Faculty of Health Sciences and the Graduate School of Business. The reason for the suspension is for the safety of students and staff.”

UCT secured an urgent interdict against “all those persons participating, or intending to participate in unlawful conduct at the properties of the applicant’s properties”. 

On Wednesday police prevented UCT and Cape Peninsula University of Technology (CPUT) students from marching to parliament to demand the release of the Heher Commission report. The march was planned to coincide with Minister Malusi Gigaba’s  Medium Term Budget Policy Statement speech. In his address, Gigaba made no mention of how much was allocated for tertiary education, also deferring to president Zuma to reveal the contents of the report.

Next in the crosshairs was the private security company hired on UCT campus Mbaba told Inside Education.

“We would also like to take similar legal action against the private security company for their use of excessive force when dealing students. They assault and brutalise our members here on campus,” said Mbaba.

But Moholola said the private security company was brought in to safeguard high-risk venues such as laboratories as they house dangerous materials.

“We have briefed the company fully on the scope and limitations of their work. The company is deployed to safeguard high-risk venues. Staff and students might notice the officers in their duties on campus…To interfere with their services may cause a serious health and safety risk,” he said.

UCT is not the only university demanding the release of the Heher Commission. Students at the University of the Freestate started protesting on 20 October. There is growing anticipation that protests will escalate and spill into other campuses and disrupt the writing of final examinations. 

In various recent interviews, student leaders have indicated their unwillingness to consider anything that does not address their key demand of “free education for all”. Others warned of a repeat of the 2015/16 protest actions that crippled teaching at most campuses.

Similarly, management at various institutions said it cannot survive with 0% fee increment. Most universities have held back on their fee increment announcement pending the release of the Fees Commission. Only the Central University of Technology and Stellenbosch felt the wait was not worth it and unilaterally hiked their fees by 8% for 2018.

UCT’s vice-chancellor, Dr. Max Price, the first to an official SOS to president Zuma urging him to urgently release the report, said it would be extremely difficult for universities to function optimally and provide quality tuition without increasing fees. Speaking on 702, Price proposed that government should adjust their student funding in proportion the universities’ expected fee increase through the National Students Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS).

Earlier this week, Universities South Africa’s chief executive, Professor Ahmed Bawa told Inside Education that if universities did not receive additional funding their operations would be severely crippled and destabilised. He said their salvation lies in the Fees Commission’s findings.

Reports indicate that the commission’s report was supposed to have been released by September. However, this was delayed by the recent cabinet reshuffle which saw the then Minister of Higher Education and Training Blade Nzimande pushed out. If this is the main reason behind the hold-up, then all depends on how quickly Nzimande’s successor, Hlengiwe Mkhize, settles in her new post.

Inside Education got no response from the presidency’s spokesperson even after requesting that questions be sent to him via Whatsapp facility.

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