CPUT students deny causing unrest on campus, blaming the university instead
Three students have denied being ringleaders behind the recent unrest at the Cape Peninsula University of Technology (CPUT), saying in court papers that the university was trying to find somebody to blame for its failure to deal with student concerns.
The Mail & Guardian reported in September that the university had approached the high court for an interdict to stop students from disrupting its activities, damaging property or harassing and intimidating staff as violent protests escalated at the institution.
The application was against four student leaders dubbed the “CPUT Four”. They are Ayakha Magxothwa, Sivuyise Nolusu, Neo Mongale and Lukhanyo Vangqa.
When the university filed its papers, the four were also suspended. A disciplinary hearing found them guilty of violating CPUT’s general student rules and regulations. Their sanction was expulsion, suspended for 12 months provided they did not disrupt any gatherings at the university.
Last Friday, three of the students filed answering affidavits distancing themselves from the ongoing protests at CPUT. They accused the university of speculative allegations against them, saying this has had a negative impact on their reputations as they had been associated with hooliganism.
“The interim interdict obtained by CPUT has been published on its website and has been extensively reported on in the press. I have been [unfairly] associated with hooliganism, anarchy, lawlessness, violence and destruction. This portrayal of me is defamatory,” said Vangqa.
“I believe that the CPUT management is victimizing me because of my political and student leadership role because I have not committed nor threatened to commit any of the acts set out in the interim interdict, apart from intervening on 18 August 2017 to calm students,” he said in his answering affidavit.
CPUT’s acting vice-chancellor, Dr Chris Nhlapho, had earlier said in his court papers that the four had been at the forefront of disrupting a council meeting held on August 18. Nhlapho alleged that Vangqa had said that he had a fraudulent qualification, and that his PhD must be investigated.
But Vangqa said he had not been involved in planning the disruption and only found out about it when he arrived on campus.
He said he believed he had been cited in the court case because of being a #FeesMustFall activist and active in student politics.
“My opposition to Dr Nhlapho to act as vice-chancellor of CPUT has caused me untold victimization as is evident from these proceedings as well as the disciplinary charges lodged against me,” said Vangqa.
The second respondent, Sivuyise Nolusu, said he was “puzzled” that he had been cited in the court proceedings, especially because on the day the council meeting was disrupted he had tried to “diffuse a very volatile situation”.
In its papers, the university said a group of students had disrupted the council meeting demanding to speak to Nhlapho about students who did not have accommodation. But Nolusu denied that he had been instrumental in causing the disruption.
He also denied that he had been part of any violence, harassment or physical and verbal threats to students or staff at the university. He said the university had failed to identify any specific allegations in its papers that linked him to violence, harassment, physical or verbal threats, describing the allegations as “very broad and speculative”.
“The actions by CPUT in this application as well as the disciplinary proceedings have bullied me to a large extent. The stress I have endured has had a very negative impact on both my personal and educational life in general. The actions by the university have infringed my right to freedom of expression and education. My dignity has been impaired, and my education and future has been disrupted due to linking the conduct of others to me,” said Nolusu.
The university said protesting students had sprayed staff members with fire extinguishers, which left many traumatised. They also disrupted examinations and tore up exam answer books. The court papers also referred to a number of buildings that had been burnt, destroying furniture and documents.
The third respondent, Neo Mongale, also denied participating in any “unlawful conduct such as violence, harassment, physical and verbal threats”. He said the group of students that disrupted the council meeting was not led by him or the other respondents.
The fourth respondent, Ayakha Magxothwa, is yet to file an answering affidavit. The student leaders said the allegations against them by the university were an attempt to connect individuals to unlawful activities it complained about, and also bemoaned the university’s stance of going to court as a “drastic route”, instead of using other ways to solve the issues.
The court case is scheduled to be held on December 7.