Saturday evening 7 November 2015

07 November 2015 | From the VC’s Desk

Dear colleagues and students,

I write to you at the end of a week in which much has happened. My intention is to keep everyone in the University of Cape Town community informed. I recognise and apologise that we have not been able to share updates more often. The incredibly rapidly evolving environment renders every communication quickly out of date. So, please monitor UCT's website.

We are in a time of unprecedented student protest action across South Africa.

At UCT we have announced two major agreements:

  • UCT and NEHAWU signed an agreement that the university would insource six outsourced services.
  • There will be a 0% increase in fees for academic tuition and housing for all students from the African continent at UCT in 2016.
With the closure of the campus from 19 to 30 October 2015, exams were also delayed and we have announced a new set of exam dates. The information on this is on the website.

I wrote previously to you on the insourcing decision and the new exam times. I have also shared my thoughts in a video message to campus on the national and UCT situations. I will now deal with this week's developments.

Council meeting:
We held a special Council meeting on Saturday, 31 October 2015. We updated Council on the financial implications of the fees and insourcing decisions.

Demands from #FeesMustFall/#RhodesMustFall:
Later on Saturday, we received an extensive set of new demands from #FeesMustFall/#RhodesMustFall. These related to financial exclusions, student debt, the interdict, police on campus, deferred exams and more. After we submitted an interim reply, we met with an FMF group on Sunday evening until3am. Progress was made on identifying shared principles, as well as areas of disagreement. Both sides committed to reconvene to continue the discussions.

On Tuesday evening, 3 November 2015, we recommenced discussions, which went through the night. Agreement was reached on proposals covering a wide range of issues. Since then we have been working on clarifying and refining a written version of the proposal which would form the basis of an agreement.

Proposed agreement with student organisations/formations:
This afternoon, 7 November 2015, we have distributed the proposed agreement and cover note to FMF/RMF, to other student organisations/formations, and to a range of other key stakeholders, including Senate, Council and staff unions. We are seeking comment from those stakeholders. We are hoping that an indication of senior management's commitment to the terms of the proposal, even if we do not have final signoff by all stakeholders and Council, will encourage those student formations to commit to a disruption-free examination session.

As you know, on 30 October 2015, we announced an agreement with NEHAWU on the insourcing of six outsourced services. On Friday, 6 November 2015, NEHAWU held a meeting of workers (employees of the contractors and of UCT). It is our understanding that concerns were expressed about the process by which the insourcing agreement was reached with NEHAWU. Following this meeting, a group of workers and students then marched to the Bremner Building at around 3pm. They claimed to represent affected workers and demanded clarification on a number of issues concerning the insourcing agreement. The executive engaged with this grouping until 1am.

In the course of Friday afternoon, while meetings with this grouping were in progress, some barricades were set up on Lower Campus and the Jammie Shuttle Service was disrupted. There was a disruption in the library, which was then closed, and some residence dining halls were affected.

AU/EU meetings:
On Friday, I met representatives of the Academics Union (AU) and Employees Union (EU) for the second time this week, to update them and to seek their support on the way forward. Regrettably, the worker/student march disrupted that meeting, but I managed to meet with them again today.

Meeting with SRC 2015/16:
We also arranged to meet the newly elected Student Representative Council (SRC) today to discuss developments. The SRC chose to open the meeting to all students and workers, but 'the house' decided not to proceed with the meeting unless all contractors' workers currently on duty were released from their posts across the university and invited to attend. We said we could not agree to this request, and the meeting was abandoned.

Both the SRC and the worker/student grouping have now threatened to disrupt exams and to shut down the university. This is extremely unfortunate; it would be unlawful and would interfere with the rights of thousands of students who have elected to write their exams over the next few weeks.

This afternoon I again discussed our approach to protect the exams with the representatives of the staff bodies as well as the Deans. There is full agreement and support for continuing with the exams and for doing what is necessary to protect the campus from disruptions.

Commitment to exams:
We are committed to proceeding with exams. We are committed to doing so according to the timetable that we have negotiated with all the key stakeholders. In the event of the disruption of any examination, we will do everything reasonably possible to provide for an alternative examination within the examination period. We will pursue disciplinary action against any student who contributes to the disruption of exams. This could lead to expulsion. We will require contracting companies to do the same with respect to any of their employees who disrupt exams, which could lead to dismissals. It would be extremely unfortunate if workers were to jeopardise the University's commitment to absorbing them back into its structure by acting in this way.

Thank you:
I assure you that we are acutely aware of the frustration, anxiety and the impact of the uncertainty on the campus community. We are deeply indebted to all who are working towards resolving the issues and remaining patient in these difficult times. We have arranged a series of meetings with faculties on Monday, 9 November 2015, before the start of exams, and with PASS departments on subsequent days. I invite all members of staff to attend, to discuss all these developments, and to help us work through these challenging times.

Please watch the UCT homepage for further updates over the weekend.


Dr Max Price


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