UNIVERSITY of Fort Hare (UFH) vice-chancellor Dr Mvuyo Tom has defended a decision made by management to not meet with protesting students yesterday.
Speaking from his home in Alice because students had blockaded entry to the campus and his office, Tom said a decision had been taken not to meet with students under such a volatile situation. “We are not going to meet with them while a gun is put against our heads. This is exactly what is happening there [referring to the protest].”
Shortly after speaking to the media, which were not permitted to ask questions, Tom had to rush out of his home to a place of safety after he received a notification that the angry mob of students were coming to his house.
Police managed to diffuse the situation and could be seen roaming around the small town carrying stun grenades and rifles, looking for possible violent activity that could be committed by students.
The Dispatch also learnt late yesterday that university management had still not decided on whether it should close the Alice campus following yesterday’s violent protests .
Tyres were burnt at the main entrance despite an interim court order granted by Bhisho High Court Judge John Smith interdicting students from protesting.
Tom said management had tried to meet with students last week and some of the issues that students raised in their memorandum to management were addressed.
Some were laid out in the rules of the university and were already implemented.
Other grievances included:
- A hike of residence fees of up to 90%; and
- Problems relating to security at residences.
Tom said only those residences that had been renovated by a private company had their fees increased and not every student was affected as most would have their fees paid through government funding.
Tom denied claims made by students that they were never consulted when some of the decisions were made, especially relating to tenders issued to a company to run residences. “We’ve got records that we’ve consulted with students. They say [they] never agreed but some of the SRC sits in bids [committee] and were there when tenders were issued.”
Tom said he had emphasised that the residences had not been privatised as students claimed but were administered by a private company which was in partnership with the university. The university remains the owner of the buildings.
Tom said the university had also improved security on campus with “fingerprint” detectors installed at residences.
Students had complained that these were causing problems as some of them could not make it on time to the lecture rooms due to restricted exits from their residences, while others were worried about emergencies.
SRC convener Bulali Rawana said students were not going to stop protesting until their grievances were addressed.
“We want to meet with the management to negotiate. We were never consulted when these decisions were made. We also want the public protector [Thuli Madonsela] to conduct forensic investigations at this university starting with the awarding of this tender that seeks to privatise residences.”
Rawana said all they wanted was to sit down with management and did not understand the move by the management to seek a court order.
Another student, who asked not to be named, said they would become “ungovernable” if management failed to address their issues. “We are going to turn this place into Marikana if they don’t meet with us,” he warned.
UFH spokeswoman Zintle Filtane confirmed that a decision had not been taken to close the campus yet. “ We will observe overnight whether the interdict will be violated.”
She said the atmosphere at an SRC meeting with students had been calm. — email@example.com