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UCT slams ‘unlawful’ shutdown, moves lectures online – but protesting students double down

UCT slams ‘unlawful’ shutdown, moves lectures online – but protesting students double down
UCT students gathered at Graça Lawns on Lower Campus in protest over accommodation. (Photo: Xabiso Mkhabela)

While the university insists it is doing all it can to help students without accommodation who are struggling with fee blocks, the student representative council has said protests will continue until its demands are met.

As University of Cape Town (UCT) students vow to continue protesting over the “housing crisis”, the university has denounced their actions as “unlawful” and shifted lectures online until further notice. 

The protesters, led by its *student representative council (SRC), shut down campus activity on Monday – the first day of the academic year – over fee blocks, financial exclusion and National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) allowances. Entrances at the university were blocked and students were encouraged to not attend lectures.

On Tuesday morning, the SRC asked students to meet again on Lower Campus, where entrances had been blocked again. 

In the weeks leading up to the start of the academic year, the SRC has been in negotiations about the decision by the student housing department to withdraw accommodation offers for students with fee blocks. This has left many unhoused and without helpful solutions. The SRC views this as exclusionary and notes that it affects black and poor students disproportionately. The NSFAS capping accommodation allowances at limits deemed unfeasible by the SRC has added another layer to the protests.

Read in Daily Maverick: “Shutdown rocks UCT on first day of study as students fume over fee blocks, housing

The university responded to the shutdown by saying it had tried its best to help struggling students.

Media representative Elijah Moholola said: “It is of concern that the SRC resorted to this latest course of action without having had any engagements with the university management. In the previous round of engagements, as recently as two weeks ago, the management and the SRC worked on the issues tabled and managed to find a resolution to some of the pressing issues.”


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The provisions UCT had made for unhoused students struggling with fee blocks included:

  • The UCT Council approved the amended fee debt threshold from R1,000 to R10,000, enabling more students to register in 2023 despite their outstanding debt;
  • The university set aside a budget, within the current financial constraints, to assist students in good academic standing who meet the criteria for financial aid through the debt appeals process. For 2022, at least R1.9-billion (unaudited) was spent in providing financial aid support to UCT students, an increase of R100-million from 2021. The support to students has increased in recent years and close to 50% of undergraduates and 30% of postgraduates receive funding support;
  • The university’s grace period enables students with outstanding debt to access the academic project while working on settling the debt. In 2023, UCT had 251 students whose applications for a grace period were successful, and 30 with pending outcomes;
  • The finance department secured additional sources of funding through two corporate entities;
  • Students in holiday accommodation were allowed to remain in residences while they were engaging with the finance department on reducing their fee debt, or with their relevant faculty regarding readmission appeals on academic grounds; and
  • The university is currently providing emergency accommodation to a number of students who are yet to reduce their debt.

The university went on to condemn the SRC’s protests as “unlawful”. 

Students at Graça Lawns on Lower Campus protest over the ‘housing crisis’. (Photo: Xabiso Mkhabela)

“While UCT continues to uphold the constitutional right to protest action, it is of concern that the nature of some of the disruptive action on campus today falls outside the bounds of lawful protest. The management of the university calls on the student leadership and anyone participating in protest actions to do so within the confines of the law,” it said. 

Due to campus disruptions, UCT had also decided to move all academic activity online from Tuesday, 14 February until further notice. An emergency rapid response task team would engage with the SRC to come to a resolution as quickly as possible.

Following the university’s response, the SRC stated its intention to continue protesting until its demands are met. DM

This article was corrected at 9.25am on February 15, 2023 to remove a reference to the SRC being EFF-dominated. The SRC is in fact made up as follows: 3 EFF, 2 ActionSA and 10 independent members.

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Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • virginia crawford says:

    These students might be better of considering whether their degrees will be worth anything with Artificial Intelligence developing by leaps and bounds. This disruptive behaviour, while warranted under apartheid, is now just that: disruption. Akin to shooting yourself in the foot, academically and professionally.

  • R S says:

    “While UCT continues to uphold the constitutional right to protest action, it is of concern that the nature of some of the disruptive action on campus today falls outside the bounds of lawful protest.”

    If it unlawful, it’s simple: call the cops and have them arrested.

  • Bryan Mitchell says:

    EFF hoping to to reduce the last few credible institutions to rubble….

  • Michael Clark says:

    Losers all of them. Some years from now they will be jumping around because nobody wants to employ them. They need to take thier issues to Lootfreely House where the gangsters/criminals that are destroying this country operate, not inconveniance others who are trying to improve thier lives dispite the cANCer destroying this country!

  • Robert K says:

    Who is actually in charge of this place? The management is tearing itself apart and the clowns who call themselves students are out of control. Close this cesspit down. I am ashamed to be an alumnus of this once revered institution.

  • 1957.tonycole says:

    My reading of this is that the University is bending over backwards to assist the students who are academically sound. This appears to be about the failures with big mouths who are constipating the system with useless politicians. The failures must be booted out to allow the deserved students place to achieve. The EFF are just creating political noise seeking votes.

  • L Dennis says:

    Absolute disgrace!

  • Dragon Slayer says:

    Within 10 years the only university degree worth anything will be from fully privatised internationally affiliated universities. Get Smarter has already seen it coming and is ahead of the game with their short courses. It will not be long before SA has satellite campuses of the likes of Oxford, Harvard, MIT etc.,

  • John Smythe says:

    “Entrances at the university were blocked and students were encouraged to not attend lectures.” Not encouraged!! Forced!!!!!!!!! One dare not attempt to cross their picket-line. Your life will be in danger. I’m paying a lot of money to accommodate my son in the area so that he can attend lectures, etc. But he has to stay holed up in his apartment to study on-line while this bunch of people are a danger to those who want to study. We’re in East London and it’s not like he can quickly come home to study on-line and then quickly take a bus back when this lot stop their nonsense. They agree to abide by the constitution of UCT when they sign up…. but it shows that they have no respect for that document they signed nor anybody else. They want respect. But they show no respect for anybody else It’s the same thing every year….!! No respect.

  • Gregory Scott says:

    Oh! How the rights of a few protestors trump the rights of the majority to uninterrupted quality education at UCT.
    Who has more rights, the citizen or student that wants to go about their day/business peacefully and without disruption or the citizen or student who wants to not only protest but does so with the intent to intimidate, disrupt, shut down, damage and break etc?

  • Jenny Brebner says:

    “What do these young people with such a destructive and poor mentality hope to achieve by enrolling in a place of privilege and honour in the first place??? Surely exhibiting such appalling behaviour does not belong in a higher place of learning. There are so many decent solid people who would give anything to have the opportunity to go to a university and make a success of their lives. Instead, universities are devalued by the calibar of people supposedly wanting tertiary education. Such disrespectful and disgusting behaviour at the expense of the genuine learners should not be tolerated. I read in the article that the university is bending backwords to accommodate these hooligans, with no success of halting the protests. It is beyond shameful that our universities have to tolerate this babaric behaviour!

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