South Africa

South Africa

Right of Reply: ‘UCT is winning’: Judgment with costs leaves RMF protesters demoralized

Important facts and voices are missing from the article “‘UCT is winning’: Judgment with costs leaves RMF protesters demoralized” (13 May 2016). For instance, the court document, which was made available to Daily Maverick, is not quoted or referenced at all. Surely Judge Allie’s reasoning should be included in this report, and not just the reactions of students who, apparently, had not read the judgment themselves? By Patricia Lucas, Manager: Communications & Media Liaison, Communication and Marketing Department, University of Cape Town

It is only fair for your readers to be informed of the facts that are missing from this article. The five students who were named as respondents in the court order were behaving in a criminal manner, limited the freedom of other students – for instance, preventing them from eating in their own residence dining rooms or from walking across campus to classes – as well as burning the vehicles students used to conduct research or travel between UCT campuses, burning an office and artworks, vandalism and wearing a T-shirt that bears hate speech. The university has a clear responsibility to prevent students and staff from being subjected to such behaviour. Yet the protesters against the court order say they are the ones who are “repressed” and “fearful”. How can Daily Maverick quote these protesters without interrogating whether there is a realistic basis for their statements?

As I explained to Daily Maverick on 12 May, taking students to court in this manner was not a decision UCT took lightly. We took this step out of concern for the safety of staff and students, as well as the security of campus property. Judge Allie wrote, after hearing testimony from all the parties concerned: “Students are entitled to protest within the boundaries of legal protest. Destruction of University property, blocking access to and from the University, physical violence towards people who disagree with protests and express implied threats to harm people by displaying words to that effect during protests clearly exceed these boundaries.”

It is critical to note that the court order is directed at a total of five individuals and not at Rhodes Must Fall or any other protest movement. Far from seeking to diminish protest on campus, the court action is aimed at protecting the rights of all UCT students to protest legally and raise important social issues. We encourage such action as part of their university experience to be socially conscious. Ironically, RMF members who complained of repression at UCT, and of students being too “fearful” to protest, were doing so at the site of a protest they were carrying out on campus.  In fact, this was one of a number of protests and other activities organized on campus by UCT students to express their political and social views.

It is also pertinent to point out that the RMF protest on campus on 12 May began in the morning. Daily Maverick had the full day to source all the information for its report, yet UCT received a request for an executive interview only late in the afternoon, when it was impossible to organize such an interview. Written questions were then submitted, but not until a few minutes before 16h00. We responded to all the questions and supplied a copy of the court order, yet Daily Maverick made scant use of this input, preferring to focus instead on numerous student allegations of “repression”, “fear” and “demoralization”. The article is presented as a news report but in reality it is an opinion piece – and not a very well thought-out opinion at that. DM