UCT explains why engagement with protesters failed

03 October 2016 | Story by Newsroom

Dr Max Price, the Vice-Chancellor of the University of Cape Town, sent a campus communication to staff and students last evening. This message reflected on the engagement process with protesters, which has been ongoing over the last few days, and why this process failed. The protesters are claiming publicly that the UCT executive is responsible for the collapse of these engagements, or that we have not honoured agreements we made with the protesters. This is not correct. UCT rejects this version as false.

The truth is that the students identifying as the SRC Candidates group fundamentally rejected the opening of campus. We explained continuously that every day we lose from the academic calendar brings us closer to a collapse of the academic year. We explained over and over that we have a legal, moral and financial obligation to conclude the year successfully. We moved our position on their demands to a point where we were even willing to suspend the university's disciplinary outcomes in order to open for classes peacefully. We agreed to external mediators and commissioners for an Institutional Reconciliation and Transformation Commission (IRTC).

This is clear in the draft resolution that came out of these meetings. We were hopeful that with this achievement a breakthrough would be possible and that we could start to work on all the issues that have been raised as part of the protesters' demands.

However, in the end the protest group demanded two more weeks of shutdown and stated openly that they would not guarantee that UCT's academic project would reopen even after that period. We offered another two to three days of shutdown, but it was rejected. This pushes UCT into a potential indefinite shutdown situation. This is not possible.

We must now question whether the demands are really the protest group's main interest, as we demonstrated that we were prepared to meet most of their demands and to find movement on others. However, it appears that a continued shutdown is what they are committed to. This is why the engagement failed.

The protesters' behaviour today, as they roam campus trying to block entrances, demonstrates that their only interest and intention is to force a shutdown of classes. UCT is still open to engagement; the students can come to the table at any moment to take up the draft resolution yet again. We urge them to do so. Their dogmatic and intransigent stand that a shutdown should continue indefinitely is most problematic. It has caused the collapse of what would have been an incredibly positive draft resolution that could have taken us forward.

Gerda Kruger
Executive Director: Communication and Marketing Department

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