UWC caught between a rock and a hard place

A #FeesWillFall protest at UWC. (Ashraf Hendricks)

A #FeesWillFall protest at UWC. (Ashraf Hendricks)

Demands that lack legitimacy. A student leadership not elected through a democratic process. Students with leaders who lack negotiation experience.

These were some of the factors that have led to the continued protests at the University of the Western Cape said the South African Institute of Race Relations’ Sara Gon.

The protests at the university have become increasingly violent in the past two weeks, with students on Monday arrested for setting fire to a building and two booths at the institution.

With students placing the blame for the continued protests on managers and the university in turn putting the blame on students reneging on a signed agreement, the two parties have reached a standoff.

Gon said the original #Feesmustfall movement and its participants had direction, but with the continued protests, this had been lost.

The #FeesWillFall movement at UWC has demanded that the University find a way to write-off historic debt worth more than R270-million. With the South African Students Congress taking a back seat and the Pan Africanist Student Movement of Azania at the forefront, the university is left with a quandary, Gon said.

This was further made even more difficult by students who did not understand that you could not solve the standoff with violence or physical confrontation, she said.

“The difficult choice the university is faced with is to what extent they continue with democratic process in terms of dealing with Sasco, who were elected by the students, or dealing with this group that has suddenly taken leadership of the protests? If you give them credence, it could send out terrible messages.”

She said the university might not even be able to identify who to negotiate with at this stage, as the students were in groups.

“There are now elements involved that are jumping on the bandwagon. And the demands now lack legitimacy to the point where we don’t even know what the demands are.”

Police presence
Commenting on the police presence on campus, she said the situation had now reached a point where the only response left to the university was to take a framework within the law.

“There is a tipping point in which the university, in fact all universities might decide they are done negotiating.”

With the accelerating violence, the universities and students have started playing the blame game. On Monday, Pasma national leadership blamed the Western Cape vice chancellors for breaking promises made to students.

“No one is responsible for what is happening in both institutions except their managers. If there is a tactic played by Western Cape VCs over students there, the Department of Higher Education must intervene before [a] lot [of] damage happens.”

Parents of UWC and the Cape Peninsula University of Technology (CPUT) also placed the blame solely at the door of the different institutions.

The parents insisted in a joint statement on Monday that their children were not hooligans nor were they criminals.

“We strenuously reject the crude propaganda of University management to cast them in this light. This is nothing short of attempting to criminalise the student struggle so as to avoid negotiating with their legitimate demands and grievances.”

This after almost 30 CPUT students appeared in the Bellville Magistrate’s Court in relation to violent protests.

Their case was postponed.

While the CPUT students appeared in court, three protesters were arrested at UWC for arson for setting fire to the Reslife Building and the security booths outside the Kovacs Building at the institution.

Gon said the level of destruction and violence were threatening to bankrupt UWC. – News24


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