Students throw water bottles at vice-chancellor

Thembela Ntongana
Students and workers walk to Cape Town station before heading to UCT campus after protesting outside parliament. Photo by Ashraf Hendricks.
Thembela Ntongana

Students disrupted a meeting of the University of Cape Town (UCT) senate today and threw water bottles at vice-chancellor Max Price when he refused to release workers to attend a mass meeting.

The students banged on the doors of Bremner Building in Rondebosch, looking for Price.

Told that he was in a senate meeting, the students proceeded to the senate and disrupted the meeting, calling on Price to release workers to attend a mass meeting where they could set their own terms for insourcing, as opposed to the terms UCT had agreed on with the National Education, Health and Allied Workers’ Union (Nehawu).

Price refused, saying the university had signed an agreement with the union. “If you want to know why …. The answer is Nehawu is the recognised union … If there are workers not happy, there are shop stewards … mechanisms inside Nehawu”.

Angry students then threw bottles of water at Price before he was escorted out.

Last month, Price announced that outsourced workers at UCT – those who work at the university but are employed by companies with which UCT has contracts – would be employed directly by the university.

At 5:10pm, UCT’s Dean of Humanities Professor Sakhela Buhlungu sent a widely circulated email which stated:

The reason I am writing to you is to report on events that unfolded at the emergency Senate meeting this afternoon. Soon after the meeting started a group of students (I’m not sure whether there were non-students among them) stormed the venue (Kramer LT2) and disrupted the meeting. Some of them surrounded the Vice Chancellor and started screaming at him. Water, water bottles and other objects were thrown at Senate members and members of the Executives. The leaders of the group verbally abused the Vice Chancellor and some in the group threw water and full water bottles directly at Dr Price. They followed him outside and continued with the threats and verbal abuse.

I’m sure other details will be communicated to members of the University. But I wanted to brief members of the Faculty directly and to put on record my disgust at the unruly behaviour of this group. Any form of protest that descends into verbal and physical abuse has no place in our institution and deserves condemnation by all members of the University community.

(See full text of the email below this article.)

Earlier today, about 1,000 students and workers from UWC, UCT, CPUT and Stellenbosch University had marched to Parliament, asking to meet President Jacob Zuma, Minister of Higher Education Blade Nzimande and Minister of Labour Mildred Oliphant.

UCT student Athabile Nonxuba said the students wanted answers at once.

“The government is creating a generation of cleaners because they don’t want to provide free education, especially for black students.

“It has become a norm for blacks to work at Shoprite before going to university (if they go) and that needs to stop.

“We will do everything to make sure we get what we want and if it means no exams then there will be no exams,” said Nonxuba.


Acting Minister of Higher Education and Training Thulas Nxesi tried to address the students and workers. Photo by Ashraf Hendricks.

Minister of Public Works Thulas Nxesi addressed the students and workers outside the gates of parliament, but the crowd refused to listen to him, saying he was not one of the people they’d asked for.

Nxesi addressed the media surrounding him, while students swore at him and sang.

One student said: “You are not here to address the media, you are here to address us. We don’t want you; we told you who we want. Now, shut up!”

Police escorted Nxesi away.

Nolitha Gece, 56, said she had been working for the University of the Western Cape for over 15 years and still earned R2,700 per month.

“I have five kids that I have to support on this income. Two are in university and I pay their fees … I can only pay food and funeral policies, and every month I have to run away from people calling me because I owe them [money],” she said.

Another worker, Eunice Jacobs, 61, said: “Every time there is a new [contracted] company we also start over as new employees and I have been working at UWC for 24 years … We want permanent jobs with eight hours, not this five hours that we work,” she said.

After standing outside parliament for an hour, students walked to Cape Town train station, singing, before heading to UCT and ultimately the confrontation at the senate..


A student protester stands outside parliament holding a placard. Photo by Ashraf Hendricks.


Full text of email by UCT Dean of Humanities Professor Sakhela Buhlungu

From: Sakhela Buhlungu
Sent: Monday, November 09, 2015 5:10 PM
To: [REDACTED BY GROUNDUP]
Subject: Disruption of Senate Meeting and Attack on VC

Dear colleagues,

Let me start by thanking you for your attendance and participation in the Faculty dialogue with the Vice Chancellor this morning. In my view the meeting was immensely useful for addressing some of the questions that members of the Faculty have been having since the start of the student protests three weeks ago.

The reason I am writing to you is to report on events that unfolded at the emergency Senate meeting this afternoon. Soon after the meeting started a group of students (I’m not sure whether there were non-students among them) stormed the venue (Kramer LT2) and disrupted the meeting. Some of them surrounded the Vice Chancellor and started screaming at him. Water, water bottles and other objects were thrown at Senate members and members of the Executives. The leaders of the group verbally abused the Vice Chancellor and some in the group threw water and full water bottles directly at Dr Price. They followed him outside and continued with the threats and verbal abuse.

I’m sure other details will be communicated to members of the University. But I wanted to brief members of the Faculty directly and to put on record my disgust at the unruly behaviour of this group. Any form of protest that descends into verbal and physical abuse has no place in our institution and deserves condemnation by all members of the University community.

On behalf of the Faculty of Humanities I wish to express my full support for the Vice Chancellor in his endeavours to find resolution to the complex situation facing UCT. I also hope that those responsible will face steps in terms of the University’s disciplinary processes.

Best regards,

Sakhela Buhlungu

This article was updated at 7:40pm on 9 November with Professor Buhlungu’s email.

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