6 February 2016
Dear colleagues and students
I wish to inform you further on developments related to the settling of students into residences.
I have written previously to indicate that there has been a dramatic and unexpected increase in the uptake of residence places this year, leading to a situation where the residences are significantly overbooked. We suspect this was influenced by national public statements about debt relief, the promise via NSFAS to fund all those in need, and discussions about free education.
This has resulted in the Department of Student Affairs (DSA) having to provide additional, temporary accommodation for approximately 100 students. We have made a commitment to support each student who qualifies with accommodation and the option of food and are working to put this in place. We will continue to do so until matters are resolved. We have established an emergency residence response team and a hotline for students to access. The cell number is 073 284 8970. Any student experiencing difficulty with residence accommodation should immediately contact this hotline for assistance.
We are confident that we can resolve the matters. However, a significant additional complexity has been the behavior of some of RMF's members. I regret to make public that their occupation of buildings that house DSA staff, the threatening and racist behavior of some of them towards staff, their actions in residences where they are demanding keys to open rooms being held for students who are returning in the next few days, have severely impaired the very system that must deal with these student issues.
These RMF members are traumatizing staff of the very offices that are to serve students. The offices could only operate intermittently and from remote locations this past week as these RMF members interrupted the operations so severely. This morning (Saturday) the offices in Masingene reopened. Additional security has been brought in to protect this office as well as Avenue House and Cadbol. Whilst these members of RMF claim to have the interest of students at heart, their actions in fact harm the very students they claim to serve. We have repeatedly requested RMF to refrain from this behavior. We will bring disciplinary charges against those who have been identified.
In terms of security we have placed additional security in and around all the DSA buildings including Masingene, Avenue House and Cadbol. We ask students and staff who may experience safety concerns to dial 021 650 2222. We also appeal to students and staff to refrain from reacting to provocation and to rather remove themselves from situation where they feel unsafe.
I appreciate that this message may cause anxiety for some staff members and students. I regret that but wanted to rather alert you to the facts of the matter.
Moreover, I appreciate that some RMF members will say that we are disgracing them in the public space, wanting to criminalise them. This is not the intention. We respect the movement's right to protest. Unfortunately, some of their members behave with impunity, disrespect and in a criminal way. Their actions will criminalize them, not UCT.
We appeal to RMF to raise issues of concern directly with DSA in a respectful manner and not to attempt to take matters into their own hands. We appreciate that not all RMF members are guilty of this behavior.
Professor Francis Petersen