UWC students clash with police

| Ashleigh Furlong
There was violence again at the University of the Western Cape on Wednesday. Photo by Ashleigh Furlong.

Chaos erupted at the University of the Western Cape (UWC) today as police used rubber bullets, teargas and stun grenades against students protesting against the stand taken by the head of the university council.

Protesting students broke windows, looted dining halls and threw stones at police.

The students were angry about an email sent by the Chairperson of Council Mthunzi Mdwaba to Vice-Chancellor Tyrone Pretorius. The email criticised part of the #FeesMustFall movement.

Several students said that the email contradicted their agreement with the vice-chancellor. The agreement covered student debt, fees, the employment by the university of workers who work there but are employed by private companies, and the private residence Kovacs.

In his letter to Pretorius [see below], Mdwaba refused the request for a special council meeting by the #FeesMustFall movement. He said only members of council, management, senate, and the Students’ Representative Council could request such a meeting and the movement should approach the SRC to ask for their “legitimate grievances” to be placed on the agenda of the next council meeting.

He said the initial protests had been “peaceful and respectful” and were justified, but the agreement entered into by Pretorius and an “unmandated” group from the #FeesMustFall movement would cost the university R15 million in 2016 if approved by council, on top of the R70 million which he estimated the university would have to spend to meet earlier demands.

Mdwaba said the “unmandated” group had been accused of leading violent protests, vandalising property and bringing “anarchy” to the university campus.

“Disrespect, indiscipline,violence, vandalism, harassment cannot and will not be tolerated,” he said, and though “reasonable requests” would be considered by the council, “we shall not under my leadership make decisions that will cause us financial challenges that threaten to throw us back to where we were in the past”.

Police fired tear gas and stun grenades at protesting students. Photo by Ashleigh Furlong.

Students told GroundUp that the email had gone against “everything that had been agreed”.

Events on the campus today were “beyond the control” of the #FeesMustFall movement, Lindokuhle Mandyoli, a leader of the movement, said.

He said that the #FeesMustFall leaders wanted to stop exams but did not agree with damaging property.

This morning five students were arrested following what the university said was an attack on a member of staff. It remains unclear whether they were released.

At about 11am students began to break windows, damaging a car and taking food from a dining hall in a residence. Police then released stun grenades. Students congregated outside the residences, setting rubbish bins, couches and tables on fire. The police were pelted with stones. They responded with tear gas, stun grenades and rubber bullets. The conflict is ongoing at the time of publication of this article.

A student said to GroundUp, “How can we focus on exams if there are soldiers inside?”

Luthando Tyhlalibongo, UWC’S media liaison officer, said exams scheduled for today had been postponed to 1 December but could not comment on other exams. Tyhlalibongo denied that the email from Mdwaba meant that the agreement between #FeesMustFall, the SRC and the Vice-Chancellor was illegitimate. He said a task team which includes #FeesMustFall members was due to meet next week.

On its Facebook page, the UWCFeesWillFall movement responded to Mdwaba’s letter: “As the movement we have demonstrated commitment to restoring normality of the academic programme and continuation of the examinations until a special council meeting is convened to exclusively address the specific issues. However, the response from you as chairperson of council has sparked a series of emotions including resentment, mistrust and anger from students. Consequently the restoration of calm and continuation of examination is at risk and cannot be guaranteed.”

Police were deployed on UWC campus today. Photo by Ashleigh Furlong.

Email by Chairperson of Council Mthunzi Mdwaba

[Mon, Nov 9, 2015 at 11:12 PM]
to: Rector rector@uwc.ac.za
cc: UWC Fees WILL Fall uwcshutdown@gmail.com

Dear Tyrone,

Further to my email on Saturday, I have considered the request for a special council meeting by the #FeesMustFall movement and wish to place the following on record:-

1) I have been in constant and consistent communication with you from the beginning of the protests till now;

2) The initial wave of protests were handled in a peaceful and respectful manner characterised by discipline and decorum which made it easy for us to support same without any hesitation;

3) We are on record that these were justified protests and the outcome though financially troublesome for us as a university that plies its performance at the bottom of the financial pyramid, given that we are amongst the lowest fee charging universities, while performing at the highest level, do not have resources to compete fairly, and unless the government steps in to assist, might have to dip into our reserves and investments. An initial look at this promises to cost us somewhere in the region of R70Million - Council is yet to deliberate on this. This is a critical discussion that requires prioritisation;

4) All the items that were tabulated in your ‘agreement’ that was entered into with the first ‘unman dated’ group of the #FeesMustFall movement gave me sleepless nights as my rough tabulation was that it would cost us another R15Million or so just in 2016 if Council were to consider same and approve. Your subsequent advices of course that another ‘mandated’ grouping of the #FeesMustFall movement pronounced this not to be an agreement but a discussion to be noted for minuting has given me much relief. However, this brings me to the next point;

5) This is a group that I am advised allegedly led violent protests, vandalised property and brought anarchy to the university campus, which we cannot(if true) tolerate, Yet, you were magnanimous enough to still seat around the table with them at great risk to yourself and the governance of the university in that in round 2 of these discussions you did so without the SRC, the recognised leadership of the university in desperately trying to demonstrate bona fides and a willingness to find a solution. It is hugely concerning for me that they would return in round 2 and denounce their earlier representatives who spent an entire afternoon and evening with you and your team negotiating allegedly in bad faith. It also brings to question on who the leaders of the movement are?This is a matter for great concern and huge disrespect to you and the institution and cannot be condoned. This is a strong message I shall be delivering to the Council; 6) Peaceful protest and demonstration is to be encouraged and embraced as part of a democratic right to expression and as a university with our historical struggle pedigree, it is part of our DNA. However, disrespect, indiscipline,violence, vandalism, harassment cannot and will not be tolerated;

7) As you are aware, and I know the different groupings of the movement are aware that I have previously been asked to convene a special council meeting and declined. Besides the fact that this is a managerial/executive role that has always been handled well by you and has no place for council whose role is governance, oversight and strategic leadership of the institution, the only recognised structures that can request an audience with council are members of council, management,senate, and the SRC. I am advised that other universities allegedly breached this governance requirement due to expediency and we are therefore to follow suit. I disagree very strongly and while I shall not comment on their decisions because I am not sufficiently close to have appreciated their predicament,and in any event have nothing to do with us, BUT we shall not create unhealthy precedents for short to medium term gain that lead us into decay and long term embarrassment;

8) It is my view therefore that the interdict we currently have must be enforced very firmly if we continue to have some members of our community that hold everyone else ransom as we try to have orderly exams. I hope that this shall not be necessary, but criminality and bullying cannot continue;

9) I give my word that all reasonable requests by all stakeholders (and this includes students who make up the #FeesMustFall movement)of the university shall be placed on the agenda and seriously considered by the council. It is critical to understand though that we shall not under my leadership make decisions that will cause us financial challenges that threaten to throw us back to where we were in the past. We shall do whatever it takes to apply ourselves in the best interests of the university, its students and staff and ensure as we have all along that we improve epistemological access, maintain participation and instill quality for guaranteed sustainability.

My recommendation therefore to the #FeesMustFall movement is that they urgently request a meeting with the SRC and ask for their reasonable grievances to be tabled at the next council meeting so we may consider them for the agenda.

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TOPICS:  Education

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