Last week, Times Higher Education, the premier ‘rating agency’ of higher education institutions in the world, recently ranked UCT #113. This global ranking translated to 1st place in the continent. A month earlier than that, UCT was ranked the 3rd most beautiful University in the world. If UCT were a woman, it would certainly be one considered to have “beauty and brains”.
As the rankings I alluded to above suggests, as a leader in excellence, UCT has no equal in South Africa. This hegemony in excellence is not a new trend. During the Apartheid era, UCT, over and above the academics and beauty, was at the forefront of tackling the pressing issues of the day. As a lecturer of mine, Prof Strauttus fondly remembers, their protests against the Apartheid regime became such a headache for the Apartheid government that they labelled UCT “Moscow on the Hill”. Ever since those days, UCT has always emphasised values of democracy and equality. When Dr Mamphele Ramphele was Vice Chancellor, she said “More than academic excellence, democracy is what UCT is proud of”. One of the ways in which UCT’s commitment to democracy has been portrayed is in the way the commanding heights (read Council) handle matters of student leadership. UCT says that it seeks to produce the future leaders of society, leaders in Business, Public Office and Civil Society. Many of these leaders have honed their leadership skills in their roles as members of Student Representative Councils. SRCs represent the hope of the vulnerable, voiceless students.
Year after year, we hear of SRC’s leading strike actions in Universities across the country. These actions are always in defence of student’s rights. Predictably, the media labels these strikes as ‘anarchic’ and other delightful terms, and at times it even quotes UCT SRCs as the pillar of ‘reasonable student leaders’ because they never strike. I would beg to differ on this point, but that would be diverting from the point. The point is that UCT SRCs and their commitment to democracy have some standing and recognition in society (even if ill afforded). Unfortunately this year, the Council, the highest decision making body at the institution, decided to betray that history.
At UCT, each aspiring student leader receives R600 for their campaign. Until this year, this R600 has always been very carefully monitored so not as to unfairly disadvantage others. This year, the Democratic Alliance Students Association, DASO, ran 10 candidates. That translates to a campaigns budget of R6000. Yet, after elections, when the IEC conducted an audit, it realised that DASO had overspent by R7145,71. This is more than double their initial budget for their candidates. The IEC, after noting this gross undemocratic behaviour, decided that the best sanction against DASO was to penalize DASO the very same amount of R7145.71. This decision went to Council and on the 3rd of October, Council adopted the results and we were informed of a new SRC that had 7 DASO members, an overwhelming majority.
This decision taken by Council, a new Council it should be added, is perplexing. Imagine, if you will, Usain Bolt taking performance enhancing drugs to assist him with his races. After breaking all the records he has broken, and winning all the medals he has won, it gets reviled that he cheated. Would society accept Bolt being penalised a monetary amount? No! If this hypothetical were true, then it’s obvious that he only won because of unfair assistance. He would be stripped of his titles and suspended (if not expelled).
UCT’s Council somehow saw a monetary charge as adequate. It goes without saying that the R7000 odd that DASO spent aided to their victory. Surely, any Democrat would understand the injustice of these elections. An institution with such prestige and history has been ashamed by the very Council that is supposed to govern it at the highest levels. UCT has a proud history of upholding democracy; this Council has flushed that down the toilet of the bucket system. All institutions that are rating UCT as being ‘great’ must realise how aloof and pompous UCT has become. The decision they took is anti-democracy and unbefitting of such an institution. Last year, Max Price, who by the way had his term renewed like a taxi driver renewing his PDP, made sure that his daughter was Vice-President. This year, he installed his preferred political party, the DA, in student governance. As a UCT student, I’m broken by these stunts. May UCT return to the democratic pillar it once was, for now, we should be referred to as ‘North Korea on the Hill”.
Yours in Democracy,
Disclaimer: All articles and letters published on MyNews24 have been independently written by members of News24's community. The views of users published on News24 are therefore their own and do not necessarily represent the views of News24. News24 editors also reserve the right to edit or delete any and all comments received.