28 December 2016
Dear members of the UCT Convocation
The Annual General Meeting (AGM) of the Convocation of the University of Cape Town was convened on 15 December 2016 in the Kramer Building on UCT's middle campus.
This report is not the official minutes of the meeting, which will be produced in due course and will be available on the UCT alumni website. Rather, this report is intended to inform members of Convocation about the nature of the events that unfolded at the AGM given the subsequent coverage in social media.
The AGM was well attended, far exceeding the attendance numbers at AGMs over the past several years. The agenda and minutes of the last AGM were available to attendees. This included the texts of the motions that were received on time and were included in the agenda.
Unexpectedly, a group of student protesters entered the venue, bearing placards, making a noisy entrance, and disrupting proceedings. This elicited shouts of objection from some members of Convocation to the protesters' presence, as well as vocal support from others defending the students. The students were also insistent on their right to protest. Based on supportive motivations from two Convocation members, the chairperson judged that the there was enough support for the meeting to continue while permitting the students to remain at the meeting, conditional on their protest being a silent protest.
In his introductory statement the President read from the Institutional Statute setting out membership of Convocation and who had a right to participate in deliberations and voting. Notwithstanding the initial disruption, the AGM proceeded to consider and deal with the major agenda items: (1) the approval of the minutes of the AGM of 17 December 2015, (2) matters arising from the minutes, (3) the Report of the President of Convocation and (4) the Report of the Vice-Chancellor on the state of UCT. Each of the aforementioned reports focused on the national crisis in higher education as well as local challenges and how they were being addressed. The Vice-Chancellor's report also enumerated many of UCT's positive accomplishments during 2016. The reports were well received. The President announced that Mr. Hugh Amoore, the retired Registrar of UCT, was to receive the President's Convocation Award for 2016.
The agenda included a motion that had been submitted beforehand calling on Convocation to poll the Convocation community around the world on a motion of no confidence in the Vice-Chancellor and the UCT executive. This item was strongly contested and needed to be discussed fully. The debate elicited provocative heckling from the floor and from protesters, including charges of racism against speakers supporting the motion.
During the motion debate a member of Convocation, who is also a vendor who runs cafés on campus, together with two other persons, held up posters quoting examples of hate speech. These posters were simply held up, without any context. Most members of the audience did not know who the people were holding the posters. The student protesters interpreted the hate speech posters as if they were being targeted at them. These posters provoked an angry reaction from student protesters who then confronted the vendor and demanded that he be removed from the meeting. It was difficult to have pre-empted the protest action by the vendor concerned. The chairperson spoke out against all forms of hate speech and the three people who had brought the posters eventually left the meeting of their own accord.
There was further contestation about meeting procedure, and rulings of the chairperson were challenged or ignored. There continued to be heated debate about the original motion and an amendment and rights to speak in spite of the chairperson's rulings. A motion to bring closure to the debate was put, and voted on, and was overwhelmingly supported by the members present. However, other members of the meeting - students and some Convocation members - refused to accept the outcome of the closure vote. The disruption, accusations and counter-accusations, and refusal on the part of some to recognise the authority of the chairperson, continued, as a result of which the chairperson had little choice but to adjourn the meeting. The adjournment meant that the meeting ended without a vote on the no-confidence poll motion, nor on the amendment.
Furthermore, the adjournment also meant that it was not possible to complete the other business of the AGM: specifically, two further motions for which notice had been received timeously, as well as the election of the President of Convocation for the next two-year term, could not be completed.
Where do we go from here?
To conclude, the President of Convocation and the UCT Executive deeply regret the disruptive conduct at the AGM on 15 December 2016, and its outcome. The meeting highlighted the contested political environment that prevails. We will persist with promoting the University as a space for reasoned debate.
Please note: Convocation comprises graduates and all holders of diplomas and certificates of the university, the Vice-Chancellor, the Deputy Vice-Chancellors and the academic staff, as well as emeritus professors or emeritus associate professors.
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