AN ACT of bad faith by UCT vice-chancellor Max Price resulted in a criminal case against a Rhodes Must Fall (RMF) activist being withdrawn, the activist’s attorney said.
Defence lawyer Peter Williams represented Sulyman Stellenboom in the Wynberg Magistrate’s Court this week, where the RMF supporter had been charged with theft for removing a plaque from UCT’s Bremner Building.
UCT withdrew the charge against Stellenboom yesterday.
The building had been occupied by RMF members during recent protests about transformation at the university.
Stellenboom took the plaque down on March 20. The professional signwriter then removed the words “Bremner Building” from the plaque, replacing them with “Azania House” after RMF had unofficially renamed the building.
He was arrested and charged with theft when he returned to UCT to reattach the signage on March 27.
Stellenboom has since made five appearances in court.
“UCT vice-chancellor Max Price had initially imposed two conditions for the case to be withdrawn. One was for an apology in writing and an undertaking not to repeat the action. My client adhered,” Williams said.
The parties then entered into an informal mediation process facilitated by a senior state prosecutor. “The vice-chancellor imposed a new condition, requesting that my client replace the plaque.
“After hearing this in court, the magistrate (Wezile Rixana) conveyed the court’s displeasure to Price for unilaterally changing the conditions. She said the parties should have been negotiating in good faith. By making the third condition, Price was in fact acting in bad faith,” Williams said.
UCT spokesperson Kylie Hatton denied yesterday that Price had introduced a new condition.
“There were two conditions. Firstly that Mr Stellenboom would apologise for removing UCT signage, and that he would make an undertaking not to do so again.
“UCT believed that as part of his apology, Mr Stellenboom would repair the damage that he had done to the signage. Mr Stellenboom was not willing to do so, therefore, rather than prolonging this matter, UCT agreed to the issue being resolved today.
“It was not unreasonable for UCT to expect Mr Stellenboom to make good on the damage he caused.”
Speaking after the charges were withdrawn yesterday, Williams said: “It seems the strong message that the magistrate conveyed to UCT has had the desired effect.”
An elated Stellenboom said: “UCT has been presented with a unique opportunity to transform the institution in a meaningful way. Price should seize it and initiate genuine change before the students and broader community compel him to do so.” [email protected]