4 February 2016
Dear colleagues and students
I write to update you about a situation in Avenue House on campus. Avenue House is the offices of Student Housing and Residence Life. It is a separate building from Avenue Hall, which has been used by RhodesMustFall and other protest movements during the last months.
On Monday evening (1 February 2016) a group of approximately sixty people, led by RMF, entered Avenue House, occupied the building and prevented staff from continuing with their duties. The group demanded immediate resolution of issues related to academic exclusions, financial aid and to be provided with accommodation and food.
The Director of Student Housing and Residence Life, Mr Grant Willis, and the staff worked for hours on Monday to deal with the situation. The group were all offered temporary accommodation and food whilst their individual cases could be assessed and dealt with.
University of Cape Town staff in Student Housing as well as Deputy Vice-Chancellor, Professor Anwar Mall and Dr Russell Ally, members of the Special Executive Task Team, engaged with the group throughout the day in an attempt to persuade them to take up the offer of temporary accommodation and to end the occupation. Whilst some students left, a group remained and slept in the building overnight.
The Student Representative Council and some members of RMF were helpful in raising issues and in practically assisting some of the students. We made a commitment to ensure that every student with legitimate issues were provided with accommodation, transport and food while their issues are being addressed. This included renting 64 rooms at Riverside Lodge, which is private accommodation. UCT does not own this building as incorrectly reported by RMF.
On Wednesday, 3 February 2016, the engagement with RMF continued in an attempt to persuade them to end the occupation in order for staff to return to their places of work. These are the very staff who are needed to resolve issues raised by the students. RMF refused to end the occupation.
On Wednesday evening, 3 February 2016, the UCT executive received a communication from RMF listing demands which they insisted had to be met before they would consider leaving Avenue House. The executive responded that it would not consider any demands while RMF continued to occupy Avenue House and that the building had to be vacated by 22h00 on Wednesday, 3 February 2016.
The occupation of Avenue House is unlawful and unacceptable. The interference with staff and their work affects thousands of students and will not be tolerated. This is the busiest time of the year for Student Housing and Residence Life. UCT has a duty and accountability to protect staff (who must do their work) and students (who have a right to take up their residence rooms). There is a system in place to assist and support students who find themselves in difficulty.
On Thursday morning, 4 February at 10h00, RMF informed the UCT executive that they have vacated Avenue House. The executive have communicated that before discussion could resume, RMF must clearly indicate that vacating Avenue House means the following:
As of now we still await their response.
The ability of staff to return to Avenue House is our main priority.
We will keep you updated.
Professor Francis Petersen