Students drag Western Cape universities to Equality Court

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The #FeesMustFall movement in the Western Cape is preparing to haul all four universities in the province to the Equality Court in a bid to evade disciplinary action taken against the students who are fighting for free education.

The collective is made up of students from Stellenbosch University, the University of Cape Town, the University of the Western Cape and the Cape Peninsula University of Technology.

The students are facing various forms of disciplinary action that could lead to their suspension, expulsion or even criminal charges for their role in protest action over the past few months that was marred by violence, intimidation and burning down of institution property.

The group has approached Attorney Barnabas Xulu who has represented a series of controversial figures,including Nkandla architect Minenhle Makhanya, Western Cape Judge President John Hlophe and student leader Chumani Maxwele.

Xulu told City Press on Friday that he strongly believed that the universities failed to act in good faith in dealing with students involved in protest action for a just cause.

“The universities have gone to big expensive law firms to basically cut the heads of these students so that they are expelled and their voices are suppressed. Firms like Bowman Gilfillan are being used to suppress voices of the students,” Xulu said, adding that the universities were using resources students don’t have access to.

He said he had advised the affected students to act “as a collective from the Western Cape universities” and approach the Equality Court.

“As a collective, [they’ll tell the court]: ‘We can’t receive a fair hearing from the very universities who we were raising our grievances against. So [university actions] are [meant] to suppress our voices and keep us out the system so no one stands up against inequalities’.”

He added that in his submission to the Equality Court, both Higher Education Minister Blade Nzimande and the universities will be cited as respondents. The onus will be on them “to prove they have not ill-treated or violated the rights of students”.

Xulu said that given the scale of the case, the costs will undoubtedly run into hundreds of thousands of rands.

Student leader and Stellenbosch University student representative council (SRC) member Lwazi Pakade said he received a letter a few weeks ago from the university notifying him that he was under investigation for involvement in protest action that resulted in disruption of university processes. As a result, he is not allowed to remain on the SRC until the investigation is complete.

“I can’t sit in gatherings organised by workers and students. Our future is uncertain and there is a high probability that we will be suspended or expelled,” Pakade said.

Another student who asked not to be named for fear of victimisation by Stellenbosch University, told City Press that he was being investigated for damaging property and has been warned that engaging in further protest action pending the outcome of investigation will amount to an immediate expulsion.

“There is a plan to get rid of black student movements for raising issues of rape, the language policy and oppressive institutional culture. It is not fair for our future to hang in the balance like this when all we have been fighting for is our right to free, quality education,” he said.
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