4 October 2016
Dear colleagues and students
We have entered an extremely difficult juncture at the University of Cape Town.
There has been a great deal of frustration and discomfort about the situation on campus over the last few weeks – particularly this week with the increased presence on campus of private security and members of the South African Police Service. The reasons for this discomfort reach from irritation about barricades that prevent you from going to class or work, to objection to, and even fear of, the private security and the complexities their presence brings to the peaceful continuation of all operations. We recognise that it is nearly impossible to concentrate properly on studies in this environment.
The UCT Executive took the difficult decision to increase the presence of security on campus this week to ensure that students and staff members can arrive at their classes, labs and lectures unhindered. We wish to reduce the presence of security as soon as possible. But, as long as unlawful actions by protesters interfere with UCT operations, we will have no option but to act against that unlawful behaviour. It must be fully understood that the security is not deployed to stop lawful protest or to close down discussions regarding student demands for free education, transformation, the institutional climate, curriculum change, decolonisation or any other of the important issues that have been raised by different stakeholders. But the disruptions, blockades and intimidation are unlawful. These actions infringe on the right of other students (who are the overwhelming majority) to continue their studies. This cannot be allowed. I reiterate again that we have demonstrated patience and a very gradual approach to increasing security – responding only to the level of disruption and threat that has already taken place. We are managing the situation with a joint operations team that includes Campus Protection Services (CPS) and the South African Police Service (SAPS).
Many of you are coming to campus and keeping the peace. Many of you are demonstrating compassion to others even when you disagree with their stand on the issues. You have refrained from escalating the confrontations on campus. You have shown respect to one another. You are going to classes and you are helping one another to complete your academic projects. You are encouraging one another to persevere under these incredibly difficult conditions. You are making your views and demands clear without engaging in unlawful actions or violence, whether verbal or physical.
For every such action, I thank you. This shows a heroic and peaceful spirit that is critical to us prevailing over this national crisis. Please continue in this spirit so that we can complete the 2016 academic year successfully.
All deans and executive directors have endorsed the continuation of classes and are in support of returning to full operations. I urge all staff, both academic and PASS, to do all they can to support the return to full operations at UCT. It is inevitable, and desirable, that we all have different viewpoints, political stances, demands and opinions. But the issues that we should all be agreeing on are that a prolonged shutdown will have irreversible, damaging consequences for all at UCT and that unlawful behaviour is unacceptable (no matter the cause).
The university is open today and most operations are continuing. Protesters tried to block both the north and south entrances to upper campus this morning, but they were dispersed by CPS and SAPS. Two arrests were made. Access is open and the Jammie Shuttles are running, even though there have been some delays. Protesters were, however, roaming the campus again and attempted to disrupt lectures in the Leslie Social Sciences building, the Beattie building and some others on University Avenue. In most cases the protesters have been removed from the buildings and lectures have been able to continue. Groups of protesters have also moved towards lower campus, but they have been prevented from entering any buildings. The libraries unfortunately remain closed for now.
We are reacting to the interferences with teaching and operations in a manner that avoids, at all costs, actions that will provoke violence. Fortunately, to the credit of the private security, the police and the protesters, there have been only isolated incidents of violence, although there have been some instances of intimidation.
Regarding the two students who were arrested: in addition to their alleged involvement with persistent barricading of access points after being warned, and intimidation, one of the students was in breach of an interdict that prohibits them from being on campus. This brings the number of students arrested this week to eight. We have also begun internal disciplinary cases against these students.
Two other students will face charges of using their student cards to allow access to many other protesters who were not authorised to be in a particular building. I remind students that it is an offence to use your student card to give someone else access without permission.
In the view of the Executive, the private security personnel have been acting with notable professionalism and restraint. However, we have also received some complaints about sexual harassment and racial profiling by members of the private security company. This behaviour, where it is occurring, is utterly unacceptable and regrettable. I personally met again last night with the heads of the private security company to emphasise how seriously we take such behaviour. I have made it clear that we will support disciplinary action against officers where individual complaints are laid.
For us to act against individuals, we need to have evidence. We ask people to bring such incidents to our attention so that we can act. You may call 021 650 3530 to report any such incidents.
Dr Max Price
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