6 July 2015
Dear colleagues and students,
Following a controversial Facebook posting by one of the SRC members, there have been various media reports about the Student Representative Council (SRC) at the University of Cape Town. I am writing to provide some clarity on the matter.
On Sunday, 28 June 2015, Ms Zizipho Pae, the Acting SRC President (of the Vacation Committee), posted the following message on her personal Facebook page: "We are institutionalising and normalising sin! Sin. May God have mercy on us." She later confirmed in a letter to the SRC that this message related to the recent ruling by the United States' Supreme Court to legalise same-sex marriages. She has also opted to speak with the media confirming the posting and her views on the matter.
At the time of this posting the SRC President, Mr Ramabina Mahapa, was on leave. Since the posting, the SRC has removed Ms Pae from this acting position and the current acting SRC President is now Ms Oyama Botha. The SRC has announced that it is busy conducting an investigation into the Facebook post and SRC members are hoping to conclude this as soon as they are all back in office.
There are several points I need to make on behalf of UCT regarding this situation:
- The university supports the SRC's need for the space and opportunity to investigate the matter and to deal with the situation.
- For many years, UCT has supported the rights of members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex and asexual (LGBTQIA+) community. We are particularly mindful of students at UCT who come from other African countries whose laws allow LGBTQIA+ people to be harassed, discriminated against, and even persecuted by being arrested and imprisoned for their sexual orientation. We are proud of the work of Rainbow UCT in celebrating diversity on campus, and in doing so, contributing to the transformation process at the university. It has been UCT's institutional position for many years, for example, to recognise the rights of gay people to marry and to enjoy the civil and social privileges that married people enjoy. For some two decades the UCT retirement fund has supported this position. Sixteen years ago the university gave its unqualified support to a staff member's legal challenge to enforce his right to immigrate to South Africa as part of a gay partnership before the Constitutional Court's 1999 landmark decision; and we allowed this colleague and his partner to register as domestic partners with UCT's Human Resources Department. Our conditions of service have for many years also provided for parental leave for staff in gay relationships.
- UCT upholds the right of each individual to exercise freedom of speech and to voice their own opinions in a responsible manner. This right, as well as the right to freedom of religion and the human rights of LGBTQI+ people, are constitutional rights.
- The challenge ahead is for the SRC to consider the controversial Facebook post and the extent to which the role of an elected SRC office bearer ought to balance the expression of personal beliefs with the constitutional rights of the students who are represented by the SRC.
- We recognise that UCT, like all other educational institutions in South Africa, is part of a society where people do still experience prejudice, harassment and abuse, whether because of sexual orientation, gender, race, nationality, economic status, etc. We want to encourage responsible discussion about these differences and how we relate to one another in the classroom, laboratory, office, residence or anywhere else. At a very personal and individual level as well as in more public platforms, such discussions must be encouraged as an integral part of respect for the rights of all and as part of transformation at UCT.
- UCT has structures in place for dealing with complaints of discrimination and harassment. These structures also serve to raise awareness on these matters. These include the independent UCT Ombud, the Discrimination & Harassment Office (DISCHO) and Campus Protection Services.
Professor Francis Petersen