Student activists furious as UJ allows them to register only if they stay out of politics

A group of student activists at the University of Johannesburg (UJ) are crying foul after the higher- learning institution agreed to allow them to register on condition that they do not participate in student politics.
A group of student activists at the University of Johannesburg (UJ) are crying foul after the higher- learning institution agreed to allow them to register on condition that they do not participate in student politics.

A group of student activists at the University of Johannesburg (UJ) are crying foul after the higher- learning institution agreed to allow them to register on condition that they do not participate in student politics.

The students were initially barred from registering but, after initiating a court case against the university, the two parties settled on the condition.

The four students Khutso Maphutha Letsau, Sergio Malatji, Sphesihle Radebe and Phasoane Mphahlele told City Press they were convinced that the university was preventing them from registering this year because of their active political involvement in the institution’s affairs.

They claimed the university was trying to prevent them from exercising their “right to freedom of expression”.

In court papers filed by Letsau earlier this month, he alleged that the university had denied him the chance to register because of his stance against private security on campus.

He claimed security members had attacked a student and his parents during registration last year.

Letsau told City Press that he believed he had lost favour with the institution when he condemned the presence of the private security – also known as bouncers.

He said he viewed their actions as a threat to student safety on campus.

“They were trying to silence me and that is against my freedom of speech and I was well within my right to complain as the student representative council [SRC] secretary-general,” Letsau said.

In 2018, the student wing of the EFF won leadership of the SRC for the first time. Letsau was elected as the secretary-general.

Former SRC chairperson Sergio Malatji, at the time a member of the EFF, said the party had not received support from UJ, adding that it had refused accept the party’s participation on the SRC.

“The university did not want to constitute us, Sasco [the SA Student Congress] did not attend the SRC meetings and, therefore, we were not allowed to take the lead.

“We wrote to them many times. After the eighth attempt, we decided to take the institution, two Sasco members and the Independent Electoral Commission to court because, regardless of our victory, the institution elected a student advisory council even though we won,” said Malatji.

The red berets won their court case against the institution and the party was formally constituted later, as ordered by the Pretoria High Court.

Letsau was suspended early last year, with Malatji and the two other students.

In emails sent to the students, registrar Kinta Burger said the students were stripped of their privileges to register for the year following a breach of the university’s disciplinary laws.

“Your application is subject to your qualifying to be issued with a certificate of good conduct and you do not qualify for such a certificate given your disciplinary record. Consequently, the registration block will not be lifted,” read the email.

Mphahlele was expelled from the institution after being accused of not showing remorse on four charges, which included defaming the university and its vice-chancellor Tshilidzi Marwala.

But Mphahlele said the charges against him were not legitimate.

“They made up false charges to kick me out of the institution,” he said.

In response to the students’ application, the institution settled the matter, allowing only three of the four students to register on condition that they did not occupy any leadership position for the duration of their studies. Radebe is still fighting UJ in court.

“To ensure that the stability of the university is secured, the applicants hereby agree to the following condition: the applicants will not occupy any student leadership position for the duration of their studies in the institution.

“Leadership positions include any structure created by UJ or under the control of UJ and are not limited to the SRC, the house committee and/or Remember and Give [RAG].”

The students signed the settlement, but they told City Press that they were not pleased with the condition laid down by the institution.

Malatji, who is now a member of the newly formed party, Us The People, said that the condition not to exercise his political rights was against his right of expression.

He accused UJ of including the condition to suit the political views of Sasco and the EFF Student Command and of excluding the new movement.

“We plan to appeal the condition because student politics is what makes us who we are and it is what we love. This is not fair and we plan to appeal the matter; we will not be silenced. The condition is absurd and barbaric,” said Malatji.

However, UJ’s spokesperson, Herman Esterhuizen, said taking this matter forward could lead to another court application.

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