The University of Cape Town (UCT) said farewell to the 15-member 2021/2022 Students’ Representative Council (SRC) at a festive but reflective event, hosted by Vice-Chancellor Professor Mamokgethi Phakeng. It was held at the UCT Graduate School of Business (UCT GSB) on 16 November.
The SRC’s term began on 1 November 2021 and ended on 31 October 2022. A new SRC has since been elected and is in place for the 2022/2023 year.
The SRC is the university’s highest decision-making student body, subject to the powers of the Student Parliament. It represents students in terms of the provisions of the Higher Education Act and the Statute of the University of Cape Town. The SRC runs various support and funding programmes, aimed at student development. They also represent students on important university committees.
“In many ways the SRC represents the heart of the university and is an integral part of the institution that addresses and responds to the many needs and interests of different students,” Professor Phakeng wrote in her welcome to the group just a year ago.
But as members of the executive who attended the farewell said, 2022 was a challenging year for the student leaders.
Phakeng acknowledged the tightrope they had walked as they had balanced their diverse commitments and paid tribute to their resilience.
“It’s a challenging task to be in the SRC. You compete for it … and after you are voted in, there is so much expectation, and pressure on your academic life. And we say thank you for the work that you’ve done.”
Every vice-chancellor walked a journey with the SRCs elected during their term or terms of office, Phakeng said.
“Even when we didn’t agree and even when you pushed back … we saw the strength in you. And we saw your gifts.”
It wasn’t all sunshine and roses. As student activists there was often tension between the SRC members and the university’s governing and administrative bodies, Phakeng said.
“Even when we didn’t agree and even when you pushed back … we saw the strength in you. And we saw your gifts,” she added.
“In many ways [the relationship] is like a family and we were like a family this year. But here’s what families do just in case you romanticise that idea of the family: families fight. They feel comfortable to disagree.
“I think it’s important for you to know that it feels to me that we’ve walked this journey as a family. And it feels good to be here today.”
In her advice to the SRC, Phakeng highlighted the importance of building bridges – everywhere and with everyone.
“You never know who you will need down the line. Relationships and networks are important.”
In his farewell message, executive director of the Department of Student Affairs (DSA), Pura Mgolombane, paid tribute to the SRC’s role in the university’s governance. But at the core of his message were attitudes and attributes such as love, honour, compassion and making a difference in others’ lives.
Mgolombane quoted the 19th-century philosopher, writer and slave abolitionist Ralph Waldo Emerson: “The purpose of life is not to be happy. It is to be useful, to be honourable, to be compassionate, to have it make some difference that you have lived and lived well.”
That brought happiness.
He invited the SRC to reflect on the quote and decide how useful they had been to others during their term and what they had learnt during difficult times.
The 2021/2022 SRC farewell at the UCT GSB was a festive but reflective event, hosted by VC Prof Mamokgethi Phakeng, members of UCT’s executive and the Department of Student Affairs.
I’m sure it felt terrible [at times]. But in the fullness of time, you will realise that with each moment and with each event, the experience was worth it.”
But love was the biggest lesson, he added.
“I want to believe that it was for the love of social justice and the humanity of your fellow students that made you raise your hand and say, ‘I want to be on the SRC’.”
Mgolombane reminded them that survival is not an academic skill.
“It is learning how to stand alone, unpopular [and] sometimes divided. And learning how to find common cause with those identified as outside the structures – and seeking and finding a world in which we all can flourish. At the DSA we are in pursuit of that world where all can flourish.”
“The definition of leadership that made a lot of sense to me was that leaders are custodians of public values and resources.”
Custodians of values, resources
In her farewell message, Deputy Vice-Chancellor for Transformation, Student Affairs and Social Responsiveness Professor Elelwani Ramugondo shared a story about her own learning about leadership.
“The definition of leadership that made a lot of sense to me was that leaders are custodians of public values and resources,” she said.
Professor Ramugondo also emphasised the importance of self-care, citing Audre Lorde who “speaks very powerfully about radical self-kindness”.
Lorde said, “Caring for myself is not self-indulgence; it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.”
Ramugondo continued: “Engaging dominant interests is not easy and what you’ve signed up for to say who will hold dominant interests accountable in this country and on this continent … But you can’t do this if self-care isn’t clear in your mind; if you don’t know what it looks like fully.”
Beauty in survival
Standing in for SRC president, Siya Plaatjie, deputy secretary-general Abicha Tshiamala delivered the farewell message on the SRC’s behalf.
“I am grateful to everyone for sticking through the year with us and holding each other accountable.”
On the difficulties and internal schisms they had faced during their term in office, Tshiamala said there is beauty in “coming through something and surviving through something” collectively.
“I want to say how proud I am of each one of us for doing so. The fact that we are still here today … and that we are here for each other. I am grateful to everyone for sticking through the year with us and holding each other accountable.
“I wish everyone the best. And I have no doubt that everyone will be extremely successful in what they do. With the amount of diligence and resilience you have shown throughout the year I have no doubt you could achieve bigger than Mount Everest if you put your mind to it.”
In closing, Tshiamala paid tribute to the DSA and thanked them for their support, encouragement, and guidance during their term. Tshiamala singled out Christine Immenga, senior coordinator: student governance, for special thanks. Without her the SRC would not have survived the year, Tshiamala said.
She also thanked the UCT executive for their receptivity to the SRC and their goals.
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