LATEST: FRAMING OUR DECISIONS
Saturday Oct 31. 20h00
Dear Campus Community
I want to start today’s update to you by requesting you to not be misled by all of the claims and counter-claims and the rumours currently doing the rounds. I try, below, to outline the latest developments, but at the same time to give you an insight into all of the decisions that we have taken up to now and indicate that these have been taken in the interest of “the idea of a university”, our 22 000 students and almost 2 500 staff members.
These decisions are also framed by our understanding of basic human rights, enshrined in our Constitution, including the right to peaceful protest, the right to safety and security and freedom of choice.
Following yesterday’s rampage, we engaged with residence students and offered them the option of off-campus accommodation and this resulted in us moving our most vulnerable students (mostly 1st years) off-campus. This option is still available to students. Where required we are also assisting those students who want to leave campus to stay with friends and family.
After the severe damage to several buildings on campus yesterday, about which I communicated to you, and the continuing reports of the intimidation of students, we increased the security presence on campus today and the Police were also on standby. Last night the campus was relatively calm.
There were again incidents of arson today, with fires at the Information and Communication Services (ICS) and Residential Services buildings and once again a number of windows were broken.
During the course of this morning a group of students congregated in the Student Centre and another group at the residences. They claim to have been waiting to meet with me.
The background to this is that, following the incident yesterday where staff and the SRC were trapped in the Admin building while areas of the campus around us were being damaged, the Chancellor was invited by the protesting students to accept their Memorandum.
The understanding was that, if the Chancellor accepted the memorandum, it would bring order and stability to the campus. At the handing over of the Memorandum, the students unilaterally demanded that I respond to the Memorandum today at 13:00.
Colleagues and students, remember that, as explained in my message of yesterday, I facilitated the handing over of the protesting students’ memorandum to the SRC and jointly we have already started deliberating on the institution-specific issues raised by the students.
More importantly, yesterday’s rampage followed after we communicated that the Chancellor and I were going to meet with the SRC first and then with the leaders of the protesting group.
I can therefore not be accused of not finding ways and means of engaging with the protesting students, despite the fact that the University Statute defines a particular role for the SRC in matters like these.
I have been receiving requests from many staff members as well as students to meet with the protesting students as a means to bring this protest to an end.
Firstly we need to be clear that meeting with them is not the end goal. Also, given the events of the past few days where violence, intimidation and destruction of property were used to underscore their demands, it would be unthinkable that we could be forced into acceding to their demand to be heard. To do this would be to betray everything that we claim to stand for as an institution of higher education. It would mean that we make a mockery of the Constitutional rights mentioned above.
The fundamental question that we should be asking ourselves is: Should force, violence, intimidation, arson and the destruction of property be used to hold the university to ransom under the pretext of wanting to be heard? I strongly believe not. It is this principle that I trust I can depend on the campus community to support unequivocally.
I am also deeply disturbed that what started out as a laudable national movement has degenerated at UWC into a violation of the basic rights of others.
I realise that this is a very difficult situation for the broad campus community and that the reports that are coming through via social media are often sensational, confusing and simply not true.
I want to confirm our commitment to re-establishing a campus environment conducive for the continuation of the academic project. This process is contained in the statement that I released earlier today and attached to this update. I also released a press statement.
I will keep you posted, but we are committed to reopening the campus on Monday, 2 November 2015, and the safety of our students and staff remains paramount.
Prof Tyrone Pretorius