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Pretoria - The Tshwane University of Technology (TUT) wilfully acted in contempt of a court order when it refused to re-admit students evicted from their residences, the High Court in Pretoria ruled on Tuesday.
Lawyers for Human Rights (LHR), for the students, on Saturday obtained an urgent court order to force TUT to allow students back into residences.
They returned to court this week with a contempt application after TUT ignored the court order for two days.
TUT's lawyers told the court on Monday they only received notice of the court order at 2pm that day and had already lodged an appeal against the ruling, which they said suspended the court order.
The court was informed that only students with access cards would be allowed back into the residences. LHR objected because some of the students were unable to get student cards due to protests on campus during the past week.
TUT argued that the university had not been given a chance to reply to the allegations and asked the court to remove the application from the court roll on technical grounds.
LHR said TUT closed the residences on Friday and evicted students after protests on some campuses against to a lack of funding from the National Student Financial Aid Scheme.
The university last week obtained an interim order to prevent any further campus protests, but did not obtain an eviction order against the students.
LHR argued that the university could not on one hand ask the court for an order preventing protests while on the other hand unlawfully removing students from their residences.
The court on Saturday declared the evictions unlawful and unconstitutional and ordered the university to allow the students to return immediately.
The court found that students' right to adequate housing had been violated and granted a punitive cost order against the university.
On Tuesday Judge Elias Matojane ruled that TUT's condition that only students with student cards would be allowed back was in flagrant disregard of Saturday's court order.
He gave the university until March 31 to give reasons why it should not be declared in contempt of court, and why the vice-chancellor should not be sentenced at the court's discretion.
Hearing the case on Monday, Matojane asked why TUT had evicted students when they did not know if they had another place to stay.
Nathaniah Jacobs of LHR welcomed the ruling.
“The court has made it abundantly clear that it will not accept incorrect, technical arguments in an attempt to justify the violation of constitutional rights and LHR welcomes this firm stance by court,” she said.