In a year filled with change and uncertainty, University of Cape Town (UCT) students can be assured continuity from their newly elected Students’ Representative Council (SRC), a promise made by SRC president, Declan Dyer.
As was the case in the previous election, the Economic Freedom Fighters Student Command emerged as the majority party for the 2020/21 UCT SRC. Their official term of office began on 1 November 2020, following the announcement of the final results in what was UCT’s biggest voter turnout in recent years due, in part, to voting taking place entirely online because of the national lockdown.
In its constituting meeting, Dyer was elected SRC president, after spending a year as the corporate relations and fundraising coordinator in the 2019/20 SRC. Serving alongside Dyer on this year’s SRC are 14 other UCT students, each with their own portfolios:
Wealth of experience
Dyer, a final-year BA student, brings into his presidency a wealth of experience in student leadership and affairs. In addition to having served in the previous SRC, Dyer also served as vice president of SHAWCO Education and was instrumental in guiding the student-run non-profit through a difficult period.
He has also served on SHAWCO’s board for two years, on the executive committee of the UCT Film Society and spent a year at student newspaper Varsity.
UCT News spoke to the new SRC president to officially welcome him into office and introduce him to the campus community.
Carla Bernardo (CB): Please tell us a bit about yourself.
Declan Dyer (DD): Having spent most of my university career in leadership positions related either to advocacy or development, I am committed to the advancement of the struggles of others. As a leader, I strive to work from a place of wisdom and empathy, who values purpose-driven pursuits, and I love empowering others. As a political being, I remain committed to the struggle for economic freedom in this lifetime.
CB: How, if at all, has your upbringing informed your politics?
DD: My mother [was] a ground force in the struggle against apartheid. Growing up, I remember the stories of her spending much of her Grade 12 year on the run from the security forces, fighting for the freedom we enjoy today. Still, it has not been an easy life, and I think those stories and lived experiences have played a big role in informing my politics. At the end of the day, her struggle was for political freedom, but the struggle does indeed continue, and mine is the fight for economic freedom.
“Cooperative governance is very necessary at the university; this makes the SRC a very important stakeholder.”
CB: Why, in your view, is the SRC important?
DD: Cooperative governance is very necessary at the university; this makes the SRC a very important stakeholder. More importantly, the protest movements in recent years have re-emphasised the importance of the student voice, and more specifically, the student voice in the decision-making structures of the institution. An effective SRC ensures that the student voice reaches these spaces. Equally, in an institution on the scale of UCT, a structure like the SRC [is] that central knowledge base to guide students through any issue imaginable.
CB: What lessons do you bring into your presidency from the 2019/20 SRC?
DD: Students need to be central to all that we do. I witnessed how easy it is for personal interests and factional battles to disrupt the SRC. Therefore, our focus needs to always be on the students.
CB: What do you see as the biggest challenges facing UCT students currently? And how do you hope to use your incumbency to tackle these challenges?
DD: The uncertainty which the pandemic brings remains the biggest challenge currently. A return to campus in 2021 means little if we’ll be forced into another closure of the university. Outside of this, we are anticipating a substantial increase in financial exclusions, owing to current adverse economic climates. In respect of the former, we will be proactive in monitoring changing circumstances and preparing for different scenarios. In doing so, we will, always, keep in mind the best interests of students. On the latter, we plan on lobbying the relevant governance structures to place a moratorium on financial exclusion.
CB: How will the SRC function under the pandemic? Have there been any ‘new normals’ yet?
DD: We have found the best way of balancing meetings, student consultations and general engagements in our new virtual world and settled into this new routine of functioning. It was a challenge in the beginning of the pandemic, but the SRC has made the most of the circumstances and adapted. As we move back to campus and have more physical interactions over the coming months, it’ll be interesting to see how the SRC embraces a new hybrid method of functioning, but for now, remote working is our new normal and Microsoft Teams is our new friend.
“I am indebted to the students and the SRC for entrusting me to lead.”
CB: What are some of the tools/techniques you’ll be using to juggle presidency with your studies?
DD: My Outlook calendar, lol. It is very important to have a balance. Both are incredibly time-demanding, and it is very easy to ‘slip’ in one if there isn’t that balance. I prefer to schedule SRC (and related) responsibilities during the weekdays, and then spending my evenings and weekends with academics. I tend to start my mornings creating a daily checklist, and I also like to schedule at least two hours daily for ‘focusing’, where I know I can just sit and get work done – away from emails, meetings and other distractions. Outside of my calendar, my phone is one of my most important tools as it allows me to get things done even when I am not in front of my laptop. Of course, I also always squeeze in time away from both for social activities, as it is important for general well-being.
CB: How do you feel about being elected as SRC president?
DD: I am indebted to the students and the SRC for entrusting me to lead, and I am more than ready to continue serving.
CB: Finally, in 12 months’ time, when reflecting on your tenure, what do you hope your legacy will be?
DD: We’re at a critical transition, where the university needs both consistency and fresh ideas in its SRC; I believe this new SRC brings together both. So, I want the legacy to be honouring the expectation and trust that emerges from this transition. I can bring the most radical or meaningful changes, but those mean very little if we end the year without the confidence of the students. My hope, therefore, is that we leave a legacy of having honoured the trust students have placed in us and always worked in their interests.
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