UKZN students remain defiant

2014-03-13 00:00

FOUR UKZN students who were suspended after they wrote an open letter to the university and its vice-chancellor, yesterday remained defiant after a disciplinary tribunal.

The Witness reported last month that four students — Lukhona Mnguni, Mnikeni Phakathi, Thembani Khumalo and Siyabonga Khumalo — wrote a five-page letter to vice-chancellor Professor Malegapuru William Makgoba, accusing him of turning a blind eye to the students’ woes following the protests over the National Student Financial Aid Scheme and extension of the registration date.

The students were subsequently charged with misconduct and suspended.

Yesterday, the university held a tribunal and the students appeared before the university’s proctor, advocate Wendy Moeketse.

According to the charge sheet, the four senior students are charged with contravening four of the university’s rules for student discipline.

The charge sheet stipulates that the accused acted in “such a way that their conduct results in, or could be expected to result in, prejudice to the good name of the University of KwaZulu-Natal”.

The other charge is writing an article containing inaccurate, false and/or defamatory statements and information.

UKZN spokesperson Lesiba Seshoka said because the tribunal was an internal disciplinary process, the university would not comment at this stage.

Speaking after the tribunal, Thembani Khumalo said the meeting failed to go into their issues in depth. “The process ended up being more like a mediation and this does not in any way suggest that the charges have been dropped. This process is unsustainable,” he said.

The four believe that they should be afforded an opportunity to express their opinions.

Thembani said the open letter was a chance to critically engage on issues affecting people in society.

He said the letter to the university was neither defamatory nor personal, adding that the charges of misconduct were based on emotion and there was a lack of understanding of the content of the letter.

“The university must swallow its pride and address the issues raised in the letter,” Thembani said.

Siyabonga Khumalo said the proper procedures were not followed yesterday and that the tribunal should have been open to the public and the media.

“We are not afraid of persecution and the disciplinary hearing.

“The tribunal ended today [yesterday] with both parties agreeing to go their separate ways and consult.

“We want issues to be discussed and are not willing to apologise.”

The tribunal was adjourned and no return date has been set by the university.

This week, the Right2Know Campaign condemned the University of KwaZulu-Natal for suspending the four students, calling it “unjust, unconstitutional and outrageous”.

R2K, a coalition of about 400 organisations, has called the university to drop the misconduct charges immediately.

KZN South African Students’ Congress (Sasco) said they were also appalled and dismayed by the attitude of UKZN.

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