UWC students and rector reach late night deal

| Ashleigh Furlong
A large crowd attended the meeting at the stadium. Photo by Ashleigh Furlong.

An agreement was reached at UWC late last night after a seven hour meeting between Rector Tyrone Pretorius, the Students’ Representative Council (SRC) and #FeesMustFall. The agreement includes the university’s commitments on a range of issues including free education, outstanding debt, registration fees and outsourcing.

After the agreement was signed, Pretorius, the SRC and #FeesMustFall representatives addressed students at about 11pm in the Student Centre.

Pretorius told the students that this “was not the time for finger pointing” and that the university was a family.

“You are my students, it might have appeared that you were no longer my family but tomorrow when the sun rises, you will still be my students and my family,” said Pretorius.

He said that he was committed to “affordable and accessible free education for all”.

The rector then attempted to hand over to the SRC President Akhona Landu to read out the agreement, but students loudly rejected this. The agreement was then read out by #FeesMustFall spokesperson Kaizer Festile.

Key Issues

Some of the key issues on the agreement are those relating to free education, registration fees, outstanding debt, the Kovacs private residence and outsourcing.

A task team is to be appointed including representatives from UWC management, the SRC, #FeesMustFall, the Finance Department and a representative of the Registration Committee. By 6 November, the task team will define what “financially needy” means.

Here are some of the key points of the agreement:

  • Free education: UWC and its rector “support the call for free education and remain committed to campaign government for support to realise this”.

  • Registration fees: Financially needy students, bursary holders and NSFAS recipients “will not pay registration or upfront fees and will not be financially excluded”.

  • Outstanding debt: The agreement says that this cannot be addressed immediately but within two weeks the task team needs to “identify strategies to fund the scrapping of student debt”. The agreement also addresses the issue of graduating with outstanding debt. It says that “students with debt will receive a letter indicating that a student has completed the academic requirements of a specific degree and that the degree certificate will be issued once the student has settled their outstanding debt. Such students will also sign an agreement that once they find employment they will negotiate with the university the terms of starting to settle their debt”.

  • Kovacs: This is the private residence on campus that costs about R40,000 a year to stay at. The agreement says that the “rector will meet with Kovacs about issues raised such as fencing, laundry, wifi, fines, fee increases and others”. It also says that the SRC and #FeesMustFall will nominate representatives to participate in these meetings and that the university will continue engagements with the Department of Higher Education and Training about the acquisition of Kovacs. It says “there are different options to be considered [to buy them out or go into partnership]”.

  • Outsourcing: The agreement says that the university’s management indicated that “they share the moral obligation around the issue of outsourcing” and that insourcing will be considered “with a firm commitment to pursue implementation after a feasibility study has been done”.

The rector also agreed to recommend to council that the university’s executive should receive no salary increases.

The agreement states that the #Feesmustfall movement commits to “ending the protest action and normal resumption of the university’s academic activities”.

After the agreement was read out the crowd appeared disappointed that few of their demands had been immediately met and would still be further discussed. Despite this, the #FeesMustFall leadership seemed optimistic that the issues would be resolved.

Disastrous student assembly before meeting

Earlier in the day, the SRC attempted to hold a student assembly where students could engage with the rector but this assembly was unable to be held as chaos erupted over who should be allowed to address the students.

The crowd refused to allow their SRC to speak, insisting instead that the leaders of the #FeesMustFall movement address the crowd of over 2,000 students.

At the assembly SRC president Landu repeatedly called on the booing and singing crowd to be calm. “The meeting is degenerating,” was her refrain.

After Landu was unsuccessful in quietening the students, Pretorius attempted to bring calm to the stadium. The meeting was held there after the planned venue, the Main Hall, was unable to accommodate the large crowd of students who wanted to attend.

“You asked to be heard. Now give us an opportunity for you to be heard. This is your opportunity,” Pretorius told the angry crowd.

When he asked the crowd, “How did we arrive at this point?” they responded with, “You!” and pointed at him.

“I see all the fingers are pointing at me,” said Pretorius, “I am sure that you have justifiable reasons, similarly there might be some things that we don’t agree with.” Pretorius called for the meeting to begin so that grievances could be heard.

“We will not let the sun set tonight unless we have systematically dealt with the grievances,” he told the crowd.

After further noise from the crowd calling for the leaders of #FeesMustFall to speak, Pretorius again addressed the crowd.

“Your demands have been that you want to be heard. Is this what you mean?” Pretorius asked the shouting crowd.

Finally, after Landu had called for the meeting to be postponed, Lindokuhle Mandyoli who is one of the #FeesMustFall leaders addressed the students. Once he started speaking, the SRC began to walk out of the stadium, only to turn around again before they had exited.

Mandyoli asked the crowd to let the rector speak. “The father of this broken house must speak to his children,” he told the students.

Pretorius was then able to tell the students that the university is “committed to helping each and every student achieve” and that by the end of the day the SRC and the #FeesMustFall leadership would have dealt with their grievances.

Mandyoli then told the crowd that the movement was not “anti-academic” nor was it violent.

“The safety and security of our students remains our number one concern,” he said.

Festile then told members of the media that the SRC had, from the onset of the protests, “de-associated themselves from this movement”. He said that the SRC referred to the #FeesMustFall movement as thugs and hooligans in their communications with students. “All we said was we wanted to be part and parcel of the negotiations,” he said.

He also said that the #FeesMustFall movement did not consist of one political party and that while the movement was aware of allegations of vote rigging in the SRC elections this year, they could not comment on these allegations as they were not a political party. There have been allegations of vote tampering in the SRC election which took place a month ago.

Read the full agreement.

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TOPICS:  Education

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