SRC slams private meeting

2020-02-11 04:30
UKZN students during the protest action on Thursday.

UKZN students during the protest action on Thursday. (Nokuthula Khanyile)

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Students at the University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN) say they will not accept any outcomes from a meeting held on Monday between the university’s vice chancellor, Professor Nana Poku, and the Minister of Higher Education and Training, Blade Nzimande.

The Witness understands that Poku and Nzimande met yesterday to clear an impasse between management and the student body.

However, UKZN SRC president Sifiso Simelane said they were excluded from the meeting. “We were shocked to hear from the media that there was a meeting. It shows what kind of management we are dealing with,” Simelane said.

He said they suspected that the university would misrepresent their demands to the minister.

“We are not going to accept any outcome from that meeting because we were not privy to the discussions. No one is going to be excluded because of the incompetent management.”

Simelane said the SRC was also contemplating cancelling a scheduled meeting with management on Tuesday.

“They [management] undermined us. We might not even meet with them on Tuesday, but we’ll see what happens. Their arrogance is going to lead to a clear direction for students.

“The university does not want to deal with the fundamental issues. They are busy postponing the academic programme, which is a delay tactic. How does suspending the academic programme resolve the issue of financial clearances?”

No disruptions were reported at any of the campuses yesterday, however, students are reported to have gathered at the Pietermaritzburg campus on Monday morning.

UKZN spokesperson Ashton Bodrick said the suspension of the academic programme was aimed at preventing any further damage to university property.

With regards to the meeting between Nzimande and the university’s management, Bodrick directed all questions to the minister’s office.

The academic programme at all UKZN campuses remains suspended until further notice after students vowed to continue protesting in defiance of a court interdict.

According to the interdict, clearing historical debt as students demand would bankrupt UKZN, while the non-exclusion of students on academic grounds for non-performance will ensure the institute’s loss of credibility.

The university sought and was granted an urgent interdict against 44 student leaders on all of their KZN campuses and the KZN commissioner of police.

The interdict, granted by Judge Jerome Mnguni, effectively prevents the students and their leaders from assaulting, intimidating, harming or harassing those on any of the campuses; damaging any university property; barricading or interfering with the entrances or access points; preventing people from entering and leaving the campuses; organising, instigating, encouraging, inciting or participating in any unlawful gathering, demonstration or mass action; and that they follow the university’s prescribed regulations and procedures for those events.

Acting registrar Kathlyn Elena Cleland said they had been forced to bring the application as any more protest action and violent riots would result in further serious harm to the university’s functioning, property and would endanger the lives of university staff and students.

Cleland said history would show that at the commencement of each academic year, there were always student protests.

“As each year’s new student representative bodies are elected, they tend to want to stamp their mark as being bolder and being able to achieve more for students than their predecessors and 2020 has proved no different,” she said.

Student registrations were due to commence on February 3 and student protests began immediately and intensified on all campuses.

Cleland said the demands of the violent strike included the final clearance of student’s historical debt and the non-exclusion of students on academic grounds for non-performance.

“The financial clearance concessions that the university has already instituted has placed it in an extremely difficult financial position. It is, at present, without a margin. So ... to meet the current demands of the students to scrap the 15% debt repayment, which is required before registration, would push the university into bankruptcy,” said Cleland.

“The university cannot act in a way that is destructive for its very foundation. This would be self-defeating for the entire student body and future generations. The university simply cannot concede to what it cannot afford.”

She said to do so, they would require government intervention and financial assistance, failing which the university would be plummeted into a financial crisis. “The university has a duty to its students, to the government and to future employers to ensure that the integrity and worth of its qualifications are preserved. If failed or failing students are permitted to remain and even graduate, the university will have absolutely no credibility and its qualifications will be meaningless. The university cannot compromise on this or allow this to happen. A good quality qualification is essential in the marketplace,” said Cleland.

Negotiations between management and student leaders on these issues had been ongoing but reached an impasse on January 26.

“Management explained to the student leaders that they needed to consult with the Exco, with the promise of continuing discussions and a request for patience and calm,” said Cleland.

Exco then met on January 29 and concluded that the university was in no position to grant further concessions to the student leadership’s key demands without putting the university at risk.

“The violence on the various campuses ensued before another meeting could be arranged — and this has been condemned in the strongest possible terms. It is concerning that the student leadership has engaged in acts of violence as opposed to reasonable discussion on how the parties could work through the challenges. The funding issues, for example, requires government to assist, and both parties should be working together to engage government.”

Cleland said the university was forced to bring the application because, despite knowing what the procedure was to proceed with grievances and protest action, the students have continued to engage in unlawful acts including disrupting lectures, intimidating students and causing damage to the property.

She said the university had a duty to protect its students and staff against unlawful protest action; and students clearly ignored protocol. “It is our experience that student protests on one campus quickly spreads to other campuses where students, again in sympathy, will commence rioting,” said Cleland.

The matter goes back to court on March 5.

Read more on:    pietermaritzburg  |  ukzn protest

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