Following on my earlier communication, my update now is regrettable and very sad. THIS IS NOT UWC. After our very positive staff meeting, some of our staff engaged with the protesting group and then gave me the impression that the leadership of 8 were keen to have a dialogue with the rector and possibly the SRC, mediated by an eminent person. In their words the students “just wanted their voices to be heard” and on the basis of this I engaged the SRC until late Thursday evening and resumed again early this morning, to get them to agree.
The Chancellor, Archbishop Makgoba, graciously agreed to this, even though he only returned from London this morning and proceeded directly from the airport to the campus. While I was briefing the Archbishop on the objectives of the intervention, arrangements were made for him and me to meet with the SRC first and then with the leaders of the protesting group. It is our information that soon after this arrangement was communicated, a group of students marched from the Student Centre to the residences, indicating that they were going to mobilise support. At the residences the security refused them entry, which led to students using “bricks, belts, sticks and sjamboks” against the security. Several of our security were injured and one so badly that he required hospitalisation.
The students then proceeded in the direction of the Student Centre and basically thrashed and vandalised the Administration building (the first and second floors of both the East and West wings), the Campus Protection offices and the School of Government building. Other reports are of widespread damage all over the campus.
Since we are basically trapped in the Administration building by a small militant group of students with bricks and other weapons, we are not yet clear on the exact extent of the damage. As I, members of the executive and professional staff as well as the SRC, were trapped in the building, I experienced first-hand the trauma that our residence students have been going through for the last number of days. Consequently, I regret to inform you that I had no other choice but to apply for an urgent Court Order as well as to bring the South African Police Services onto campus. Unfortunately the Police did not respond immediately, because of the past action taken against Police when they acted on campuses without the protection of a Court Order.
The sentiment that the protesting group only “wanted to be heard” was proven untrue this afternoon. I previously met with them in the mass meeting a week ago and listened to their demands for over 2 hours. I subsequently facilitated the presentation of their demands to the SRC. With the SRC we already started addressing the issues raised in their memorandum. We were in the process of arranging a conversation between the Archbishop, the Rector and this group. They are claiming this rampage is the result of the Rector not being available for them and I reject this claim absolutely. The evidence is there that they pretended to want to have a dialogue, but when the opportunity was presented to them, they went on a rampage. We have deployed a team of councillors to assist our students in the residences, especially the first-years, to help them deal with the trauma they have experienced.
I will keep you updated and I call on all staff to be unambiguous in condemning this atrocious behaviour.
Prof Tyrone Pretorius
Rector and Vice-Chancellor