UCT's reluctance to engage protesters delayed agreement - student movement

2016-11-08 22:39
The University of Cape Town's upper campus. (iStock)

The University of Cape Town's upper campus. (iStock)

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Cape Town - The agreement reached between protesting University of Cape Town students and the institution's executive could have come about in the first week of protest had UCT not been "so reluctant" to engage, say student leaders. 

Students who participated in eight weeks of protests at UCT committed on Tuesday to allowing exams to continue without disruption after an agreement was reached with the university executive two days ago.

"In our view, exams are not a metric for the continuation or halting of our struggle, [but] rather they are a concession we are willing to concede to gain institutional victories," said SRC candidate Sinqwo Thambo.

The group, collectively known as the Shackville Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), started campus-wide protests in September in opposition to the suspensions, expulsions and interdicts against students charged by the university for their involvement in the Shackville protests in February.

A corrugated iron structure and portable toilet were erected at the bottom of Jameson Hall on upper campus as a symbol of the struggle for student housing and financial exclusions. The shack was later demolished by security.

The university and protesting students signed an agreement on Sunday, where it was agreed that a commission would be established to look into the Shackville incident.

'Severe trauma could have been avoided'

Thambo said the agreement involved "institutional issues that have been plaguing black students for the past year, and historically at UCT".

"After eight weeks of clashes, shutdowns, abuse and fruitless negotiations, on this day resolutions were reached that has seen Shackville TRC make progressive gains and give the student movement vigour to continue the fight for free decolonialised education, a vigour that is informed by gains made after relentless fighting from students," he said.

These resolutions, however, could have been achieved in the first week of protest had UCT not been "so reluctant" to engage, Thambo argued.

"Severe trauma could have been avoided, trauma that has come as a result of police brutality and heavy unaccountable private security. All of the violence students have experienced, the sexual harassment, the assaults and the psychological effects of being on a campus that resembles a military base could have been avoided."

The movement called for the "demilitarisation of our campuses" and the removal of private security.

"UCT has committed to removing private security on the campus, citing the agreement we have reached once it has assessed that there is tangible de-escalation of conflicts. It is likely that by November 9 there should be enough evidence of our good will. 

"As an act of good faith, we also expect the university to make an application to the High Court to withdraw the interim interdict. We hope it sticks to this, understanding the violence and triggering nature of the presence of private security and the conditions interdicts create to stifle dialogue."

Protests to be less disruptive

However, Thambo said the resolutions were by no means a peace agreement, but a give and take based on the importance of resolving the intense protests. 

Among the agreements reached with management were: that clemency be granted to the suspended, interdicted and expelled students; no student be denied progression to the following year or access to their degree and graduation because they cannot afford to pay fees; and a Shackville TRC be established to look into the institutional culture of the university and how it exists with reference to decoloniality, race, gender, class, symbolism, disciplinary processes and political violence. 

Thambo said the agreement was a good stepping stone. He said while protests would continue, they would not be as disruptive in nature during this period.

"We will continue to organise engagements, host protests, seminars and political education sessions. We will, more importantly, now redirect our energies into mobilising society and communities and take our onslaught directly to the state itself, encompassing all of the struggles facing the masses of our people.

"It is not the end, but merely the beginning of a more intensified and broader means of revolt within the country."

Read more on:    uct  |  cape town  |  university protests

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