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Law faculty points fingers at UCT Executive, accusing it of keeping campus in the dark about SRC shut down plans

Law faculty points fingers at UCT Executive, accusing it of keeping campus in the dark about SRC shut down plans
UCT students protest against fee blocks, financial exclusion and students who remain without accommodation in Cape Town, on 14 February 2023. (Photo: Alinaswe Lusengo)

The Law Faculty has issued a statement to University of Cape Town’s Executive, accusing members of knowing about the planned shutdown this week, and failing to inform the wider university community. It claimed that the executive was complicit 'in the violence, aggression and intimidation that comes with student shutdowns'.

The Law Faculty claims that the Executive at the University of Cape Town (UCT) was aware of intentions to shut down campuses but did not inform the wider university community.

In a statement released by Dean of Law, Danwood Chirwa, on Friday, 17 February, the faculty said it was “deeply concerned” by the move, and suggested that the executive did not take adequate action to ensure that students and staff were protected from the fallout. 

The executive includes the Vice-Chancellor Mamokgethi Phakeng and her deputies.

The faculty stated that UCT’s Executive “knowingly exposed staff and students to the risk of intimidation, aggression, and violence from protesting students”. 

The Law Faculty’s statement comes alongside the news that UCT is to suspend Phakeng. 

UCT’s Student Representative Council (SRC) initiated a campus shutdown on Monday, 13 February, the first day of the academic year. The shutdown was intended to protest ongoing issues at the university, including fee blocks, financial exclusion and unhoused students. 

The latter is of particular concern for the SRC, as the student housing department made the decision to withdraw residence offers from students with fee blocks, which left many students without accommodation. 

Read in Daily Maverick: From Stellies to Wits, NSFAS’s caps on accommodation allowances fuel tension at universities across SA

The SRC encouraged the suspension of academic activity and barred entrance to the university, in protest. UCT then moved lectures online for the remainder of the week, until it released a notice at 10pm on Thursday, 16 February, that in-person activity would resume on Friday, 17 February.  The university promptly retracted the notice, as protests continued on Friday morning, and in-person teaching was unfeasible. 

In its statement, the Law Faculty said it believed that UCT released the Thursday evening notice, knowing that no agreement with students to cease protests had been reached. 

The Law Faculty expressed its contempt about the way UCT’s Executive has dealt with the campus shutdown. Beyond making claims that the Executive did not make the university community aware of the intent to shut down campus, the faculty noted that campus disruptions have “caused significant physical and psychological harm to students and staff”. The faculty indicated that Campus Protection Services did not act accordingly to assist students and staff during protests. 


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The statement also made broader claims about the university, saying that the Executive is “complicit in institutionalising a culture of disruption of academic activities, intimidation, harassment and assault of staff and students”. Further, the faculty criticised the university’s “casual attitude” towards online learning and said it believed the Executive sees it as an easy answer to instances of campus shutdowns. 

Ultimately, the Law Faculty condemned the UCT Executive’s “complicity in the violence, aggression and intimidation that comes with student shutdowns” and called upon the Executive to “fulfill its responsibilities towards staff and students, including to ensure that students receive the best education the university is capable of delivering”. The Law Faculty also implored the university to have timeous communication about the shutdown and raised an “objection” to treating online learning as a substitute for in-person teaching. 

The statement concluded by saying that the faculty would continue in fundraising efforts to assist students but “cannot serve as a guarantor of debt relief for students with fee debt in general, and for those who have no reasonable prospect of completing their degrees more specifically”.

Chirwa was not available to speak further to Daily Maverick at the time of publication.

Contacted to respond, UCT spokesperon Elijah Moholola said: “The UCT executive has noted the statement by the Faculty of Law. The executive will engage directly with the faculty through the appropriate internal channels.” DM


Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Bill Gild says:

    Hats off to the law faculty for exposing what has been an ongoing problem at UCT since 2015.

  • Bill Gild says:

    Intimidation, assault, violent disruptions, arson, and forced campus closings have been an ongoing problem at UCT from time to time since 2015.

    Max Price was weak, and hobbled by his own naivete. Phakeng appears to dither (if not compliant), and is paralysed by her unique leadership “issues’, pending dismissal.

    The open letter by the law faculty, while welcome and refreshing, will (sadly) achieve nothing.

    UCT is falling, and will continue so to do.

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