28 May 2016
Dear colleagues and students,
Disciplinary action and interdicts against certain protesters for criminal action
UCT has seen its share of protest over the last eighteen months. Thousands of students and staff have participated in various protest actions and marches. We have not and will not act against any of those protesters. We have seen difficult and uncomfortable engagements unfold. We have challenged each other and I believe we have grown as an institution. There is much to do and we will continue to view the demands and pressures on the executive as an indication of a student and staff body that is involved, active on social justice issues and stirring us on to be the best that we can be. This works for the greater good.
A small group of students have however made themselves guilty of unlawful behaviour. Our Constitution states clearly that everyone has a right to lawful protest action. The Constitution and the laws of our country protect and promote the right “peacefully and unarmed, to assemble, to demonstrate, to picket and to present petitions”. Implicit in this right is respect for the protected rights of other people, including the rights to dignity, equality and freedom. Lawful protest does not extend to criminal activities. On 16 February this year we witnessed the burning of two vehicles, the burning of the property of the university, arson attacks on buildings and vandalism. UCT acted by getting an interim interdict to protect our campus. The court made final the interdict against five people (three of whom are students) and the high court order forbids them from coming onto campus. It must be understood that it is not for their protest action but for their participation in unlawful activities that the judge confirmed the interdict as permanent. A key consideration for the judge was that those interdicted would not show remorse for their actions, did not acknowledge that they were wrongful, and did not accept that they should not repeat their actions in the future. Please do read the details of the interdict and the high court judge ruling on the unlawfulness of the activities and the reasoning in law on why the interdict was made final.
We are also in the midst of Student Disciplinary Tribunal (SDT) hearings against twelve students who participated in illegal protest activity – this includes the three who are interdicted, and others whom the University management assessed did not present a threat to peace on campus and therefore are not interdicted but have various restrictions on their on-campus activities.
On Wednesday this week, a group of about twenty students, including three of those interdicted (two are students), barged into Bremner and demanded to see the Vice-Chancellor. I was not present in Bremner. They refused to leave. For the interdicted students the act of coming onto campus means that they are in contempt of a high court order, which made them subject to immediate arrest by the SAPS. Two Deputy Vice-Chancellors explained that this very serious illegal action, aided and abetted by other students, was utterly unacceptable and instructed all the students to leave the building and the interdicted students to leave the campus. Police were called to campus in the event that the students refused to leave voluntarily. In an attempt to convince the students to leave the building without bringing the police inside, I agreed to return to campus to meet the group (not the interdicted students) in the carpark outside of Bremner building. The group eventually exited the Bremner building to meet outside.
Once outside, I indicated that I would not engage with the those subject to interdicts while on UCT premises and if the group wished to include them in the discussions, they would have to meet off campus. This was accepted and the whole group met with me and DVCs Mall and Petersen in a park in Rosebank.
The group's demands included that the University should withdraw the interdicts and charges against the five or otherwise charge them all with the same charges that those interdicted are charged with. I refused to withdraw the interdict or any charges. I explained that the university did not itself have evidence against anyone other than those twelve who have already been charged. I indicated that students who want to admit to unlawful acts should do so to the student disciplinary office and they would be charged and appropriately sentenced.
Meanwhile UCT opened a case with the SAPS to alert them to the breach of the interdict. The institution cannot stand by as the law is broken when the very purpose of the interdict was to prevent them coming onto campus, occupying buildings and conducting disruptive activities. We expect that the interdicted students will be arrested by the SAPS and they will have to explain to the court why they did not adhere to the court order. The seriousness of the matter cannot be stressed enough. Those involved are spreading the word that UCT is at fault or that their protest action is the reason why they are in this position. This is simply false. They are interdicted because they made themselves guilty of unlawful acts, and when arrested will have to explain to a judge why they brazenly ignored the high court interdict. A system of law and order cannot be maintained if there are no consequences to disobeying court orders.
I wish to stress to all students who support other students who break the law, that they risk being complicit in an illegal activity with legal consequences for themselves. There is no reason why the interdicted students needed to come onto campus. The group could have requested a meeting to discuss issues of concern with the executive at any time and such a request would have been considered, but not on campus. They made no contact with the executive before invading Bremner Building, except by email to request permission to write exams, which incidentally had been granted.
I urge students not to believe the rhetoric of some that say UCT is victimising them for their politics or their protest activities.
The violent and destructive protest actions on many campuses nationally are very worrying. There are, unfortunately, many examples of students who make themselves guilty of crimes as serious as arson, vandalism, intimidation and interfering with the rights of others. I am asking all staff and students to refrain from participating or supporting these acts of criminality. You should report such activities to campus protection services at 021 650 2222.
UCT belongs to us all and to those that come after us. Whatever we might want to change at UCT, we can change by engagement or by protest action that is lawful.
Dr Max Price
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