06 September 2016
Dear colleagues and students
This morning Vice-Chancellor Dr Max Price presented the University of Cape Town's submission to the Commission of Inquiry into Higher Education and Training (The Fees Commission), which is looking into the future funding of higher education. The presentation went smoothly and was well received. The commission had several questions and the Vice-Chancellor spent over an hour in discussion with the commissioners.
After the presentation, a group of people – including UCT students, some of whom are interdicted by the Western Cape High Court for allegedly engaging in serious criminal activities during the Fees Must Fall protests earlier this year – arrived at the hearings and disrupted the proceedings. The group demanded that the Vice-Chancellor immediately withdraw the interdict and any other disciplinary charges against currently interdicted students.
The Vice-Chancellor explained that the interdicted students face serious charges due to their alleged criminal conduct during the Fees Must Fall protests and that due legal processes must follow. He explained that the students need to make their individual cases to the relevant disciplinary tribunals and that it is not in his power to immediately withdraw either the interdict or the disciplinary charges. He further explained that the students were not interdicted for their participation in protest action and reiterated that thousands of students protested without any action being taken against them, so the claim that they were being victimised for protest action had no basis.
The group continued to insist that he withdraw the interdict and refused to allow him to leave the venue until he had done so. The Vice-Chancellor continued to attempt to answer the questions levelled at him but ultimately wanted to leave the venue. The Vice-Chancellor's computer was taken by an individual (it was later returned) and he was manhandled. He asked several times to be allowed to leave, but the group refused, calling again for the reversal of the interdict and the disciplinary charges, and the disbandment of the commission.
After some time, members of the Public Order Police of the South African Police Service (SAPS) arrived and escorted the Vice-Chancellor out. An altercation between members of the SAPS and the group ensued, but the Vice-Chancellor was safely escorted from the premises. The members of the SAPS withdrew after the Vice-Chancellor had left the venue. The student group then proceeded to take over the hearings and held a commission of their own. This is now documented in general media.
In our view, the behaviour outlined above is unacceptable. The Vice-Chancellor was, in fact, held hostage, manhandled and verbally abused. The university's legal office will investigate whether any charges should be brought against the offending parties.
It is the university's view that the work of the commission is extremely important and it is critical that it is able to conclude its work.
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