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Claims against UWC’s 'eviction' of students contain inaccuracies, lies and fabrications

The University of the Western Cape has pointed out that mediation was under way and that none of the students quoted attended mediation. Picture: Ian Landsberg/African News Agency (ANA)

The University of the Western Cape has pointed out that mediation was under way and that none of the students quoted attended mediation. Picture: Ian Landsberg/African News Agency (ANA)

Published Jan 31, 2022

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The Cape Argus provided UWC with a copy of a piece by Sinazo Raphahlela to share their response to the comments made on the matter. Raphahlela’s piece can be seen here, and the UWC’s response can be found below.

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Claims against UWC contain inaccuracies, lies and fabrications

by Gasant Abarder

The Cape Argus has provided UWC with a copy of communication by Sinazo Raphahlela. This communication contains a plethora of inaccuracies, lies and fabrications, yet it is titled, Let the truth be known.

Raphahlela took up residence at Hector Peterson Residence (HPR) under strange circumstances, as students who register for Master’s by thesis and who are employed do not qualify for residence at the university and are in effect taking the space of a poor student who qualifies for student accommodation.

Raphahlela was removed from the HPR residence many months before the December 22 incidents, yet is seen and heard in video footage verbally abusing staff members and aggressively stating to security staff that she would return to HPR in 2022.

Before dealing with the content of the spurious communication, it is important that we provide the Cape Argus with some facts surrounding the relocation of the vacation stay students from our HPR residence.

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On December 2, all residential students were advised that the academic year ends in mid-December and the university would close all its residences on December 17, and invited students to apply for vacation stay.

Those who applied would be relocated to one or more of the university’s privately-owned off-campus residential stock facilities. All but a few students at HPR vacated the residences.

After December 17 the university engaged with the HPR students and advised them and some of their representatives that their rooms are available at an upmarket privately-owned facility leased by the university.

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As the university was closed, the media statements setting out these facts including photographs of the residence were delivered to the students and their external representatives on December 21.

In video evidence, some students can be seen tearing up this communication. This statement and all other communications made it clear there was no intention to evict any residence student as it was a relocation of the students at the cost of the university.

It is also important to note that students are allocated a room at a university residence as a corollary to studying at the university. It is not a standard commercial lease, but is similar to a school providing a dormitory or hostel to its pupils. A room provided by a university to its students cannot be elevated to a home as it is linked to the academic programme, facilities in the residence are communal.

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In terms of the rules of most universities, a student could lose residence accommodation if found guilty of misconduct.

As students progress academically, they move to different residences and may even be allocated different rooms mid-year within the same residence. Students vacate rooms during the mid-year break and at the end of the academic programme.

No university in South Africa would be able to fulfil its core functions if it has no control over the annual allocation and reallocation of rooms. Any university is entitled to move its students to similar or better facilities on reasonable notice while providing assistance for the move.

The situation with vacation stay students is even more fluid as the university assists these students at a reasonable cost as they may have no family in South Africa or be unable to travel home. This assistance does not preclude the university from carrying out its operational needs, such as maintenance and deep cleaning.

Vacation stay students are generally allocated rooms in residences that do not require maintenance or deep cleaning.

In November 2021, the university advised all students and all stakeholders that its Interim Covid-19 Vaccination Policy would be effective in January 2022 and on December 2, 2021, all residence students were informed that all of the university-owned residences would be closed to prepare the buildings for the deep clean and compliance with the new policy.

In the circumstances, the content of the student’s communication is disingenuous in many respects and I will point out a few:

Students were not accosted by any security staff of the university on December 23. On December 23, the HPR residence was empty save for one male student who was hiding in the room of a female student.

There was a court hearing on the afternoon of December 23, and the court order was negotiated and ultimately granted on December 24. There was thus no relocation of students on the day that the HPR students’ attorney and the university’s attorney appeared in the virtual meeting with the judge.

The student conveniently fails to mention that on December 22, some identified students attacked the university’s security service providers with hot water and other projectiles and in response the very same security officers, who include the outsourced staff that students have demanded that the university insource, engaged the students. These service providers are allowed to use pepper-spray equipment but not allowed to use rubber bullets.

The CCTV evidence indicates that some identified students assaulted the security staff and were then engaged with pepper-spray devices and other protective equipment. The reaction of the security officers was unfortunate but lawful within the context of being attacked with hot water and other projectiles.

If any security officer is found to have used rubber bullets on any student, that individual will be disciplined, and the university is of the view that such an individual’s employment should be terminated.

The use of provocative, exaggerated and hyperbolic terms by the student is also most unfortunate in circumstances where no evidence is presented to substantiate these incredible statements.

The SAPS was on site on December 22, and if the conduct of the security officials were indeed brutal, criminal, horrific and unholy, the SAPS would most certainly have arrested these security officers or at the very least engaged the victims and then arrested the security officials.

No such arrests took place and the CCTV footage does not support these hyperbolic statements.

The suggestion that xenophobia played a role, however, goes well beyond hyperbole and is a direct attempt at defaming the university and casting aspersions. Absolutely no basis is set for this blatant fabrication and it is rejected in the strongest terms.

It is most unfortunate that the student who is in a leadership position would stoop to this level.

On November 25, Judge Nathan Erasmus was not the chairperson of the Council. Judge Erasmus’s term as chairperson of Council commenced in December 2021. Once again, the purposeful obfuscation of facts to suit a particular narrative is alarming.

Judge Erasmus was not the chairperson of Council when the progressive Interim Covid-19 Vaccination Policy was accepted. The allegation that the policy is permanent is ridiculous when one considers that in terms of the policy itself, it must be reviewed in the second semester of 2022.

The chairperson of Council does not play any role in the operations of a university. The rector is the head of all operations and students are well aware of this. The comments made about Judge Erasmus are defamatory and not true.

Only two students were present at the mediation on December 28, and these students are well aware that Judge Erasmus made it clear at the start of the mediation session that he preferred an independent mediator.

It was placed on record that no objection or discomfort about his appointment as mediator was presented by the applicants or their legal team from December 23 to over an hour into the mediation on December 28, when a sense of discomfort was conveyed by one of the legal representatives of the applicant.

This sense of discomfort was certainly not presented at the first opportunity to the legal team of the applicants.

The university remains committed to resolving matters with its students in terms of a court-mandated mediation and applied for mediation in terms of the rules of the High Court.

It is unfortunate that the student who authored this statement went to the Cape Argus rather than engaging with the leadership of the university, despite this student being in a leadership position.

* Gasant Abarder, spokesperson: UWC

** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.

Cape Argus

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