VC Desk: Classes and university operations resume 3 October 2016

02 October 2016 | Story by Newsroom

Dear colleagues and students

I write this evening with a heavy heart. I had hoped to report an agreement arising out of a mediation process that has continued all weekend, but it has now concluded without resolution. We are therefore faced with the following choice: opening the university with the necessary security or compromising the academic project for the rest of the year.

The group of students with whom we have been engaging characterise themselves as 'SRC Candidates / #ShackvilleTRC' and are occupying the Steve Biko Students' Union Building. Many are SRC candidates in the current suspended SRC election. They have been the driving force behind the campaign to shut down UCT. Their demands have been manifold, but the most urgent is the call for a truth and reconciliation commission (TRC) to address the shackville protests in February this year and its aftermath in terms of interdicts and disciplinary processes. The call for a 'TRC' was in fact presented to Council in June by a different group of students and staff. I followed this up on behalf of the new Council in August, but no progress was made.

I joined the Special Executive Task Team (SETT) in its engagement with the 'SRC Candidates' to try to find a way forward. We were involved in very lengthy deliberations over Friday, Saturday and today. It included an excellent mediator that the students proposed and SETT agreed to. I felt all along that we were making good progress and reported to Council (on Saturday) and to the Senior Leadership Group (early on Sunday) that I was hopeful that we would sign the proposed agreement. That certainly was the conclusion we had all drawn by midday Sunday.

The agreement would have meant that the institution could open tomorrow (Monday) and that we would see no further disruption, and that to the extent that there remained protesters opposed to opening the campus, this would require minimum security to maintain an open campus. The agreement would also begin in earnest an Institutional Reconciliation and Transformation Commission (IRTC), the first phase of which would be a review of the events leading up to the shackville protests, the events on the night itself, including the calling in of private security and the Public Order Police, and the interdicts and disciplinary processes that followed. In addition, the five expelled and six rusticated students would have been considered by the IRTC panel for some sort of amnesty should certain conditions have been met. The executive also agreed that we would recommend to the University Council Executive Committee the suspension of the implementation of the expulsions and rustications while the IRTC was underway to ensure full and fair participation. We had also agreed on a tentative list of commissioners.

Unfortunately, when we reconvened this afternoon, the student group reported that they would not sign the agreement and that they wished the university to remain closed for another two weeks at least. They argued that closure was needed to undertake or prepare for the IRTC - while we argued that the IRTC could happen while the university was open. After further negotiation they reduced the demand to one further week, but were unwilling to commit that after that week the university would be open.

I would normally not even have considered sharing a document that forms part of a mediation and possible agreement. I do so this evening so that members of the community can see how far we had moved and that we were completely committed and serious about the independently run IRTC. Please read the draft resolution. In fact, the entire proceedings were live streamed and can be viewed on the #shackvilletrc FaceBook page. I should, of course, emphasise that there are both local and national issues that have resulted in national student movements shutting down universities across the country and that what happens at UCT is very much part of that bigger movement.

As per my previous communications, we are deeply concerned about a prolonged closure as this may lead to us forfeiting the academic year. As I have explained, this will have devastating consequences for all. We have no wish to bring private security or the South African Police Service onto campus and have done everything humanly possible to avoid such a situation. But, our best attempts, including external, independent mediators, have been unsuccessful. As we cannot afford a longer closure at this time of the year, we must continue with the academic programme.

The executive and Council have decided that while we continue to attempt to resolve the current conflict through continued dialogue, the minimum security should be used in order to protect the academic programme, recognising also our legal obligations to secure the safety of students, staff and property.

UCT will be fully open tomorrow. We will use the minimum private security required to ensure the safety of all students and staff.

I appeal to all staff and students (including those that may wish to continue with protest action) not to increase tensions on campus.

Yours sincerely,

Dr Max Price

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