Cape Town – The University of Cape Town (UCT) has collated and released email correspondence between the executive and the Rhodes Must Fall (RMF) group, providing a timeline of events before Tuesday night’s chaos which saw violence erupt on campus.
The latest emails were uploaded onto the university’s website on Tuesday and was circulating on social media on Wednesday night.
In it, Deputy Vice-Chancellor Francis Petersen speaks on behalf of the university while RMF emails as a collective.
The uploaded correspondence begins February 3, 2016, though it is not clear if it is a complete record of emails between the parties.
At that time, RMF conveyed a list of demands prior to the end of their occupation at the university’s Avenue House. This included students in transit being afforded accommodation and a letter from Vice-Chancellor Max Price stating the “systemic failings of student housing” and ensuring that no one be excluded on the basis of affordability. RMF also demanded a meeting with senior management and Price at 5pm on February 4.
The next day, Petersen responded thanking RMF for their “notification”, as he called the list of demands. However, he said, contrary to their proposed plan of action – RMF vacating Avenue House by 7am on February 4 – five students remained in occupation.
“We wish to resume engaging with you as soon as possible and are more than willing to come to Avenue Hall at 5.00 pm today as requested in your email,” wrote Petersen, “However, this can only happen if our understanding of what vacating Avenue House means is also shared by you.”
A few hours later, RMF responded saying they had sent out a call for Avenue Hall to be vacated and that they looked forward to the meeting at 5pm. However, Petersen then responds saying that Cabdol House had been occupied by 20 students. RMF replies that the occupation had ended.
About an hour after RMF declared the Cabdol occupation over, Petersen replied, referring to a Facebook post by RMF: “… you have made a call to all financially and/or academically excluded students without accommodation to meet directly with Senior Management. This is, despite the fact that we have made it absolutely clear to you that we will not be meeting with you at this stage.”
Petersen states senior management will no longer meet with RMF on the day due to the above as well as the alleged intimidation and racial abuse of staff and disruption of work.
“We are keen to engage with you but will only do so once you have demonstrated that such engagement can occur in a respectful manner,” said Petersen.
A week passes – or mails are omitted – before Petersen on February 11 thanks RMF for bringing to senior management’s attention concerns regarding student accommodation. He then requests a meeting between the two parties on February 12.
The next day, RMF responds saying they cannot meet with senior management due to “the taxing effects of the events transpiring at yesterday’s Free Education protests at Parliament”. Further, they state, they “reject the tone and suggestion in this email invitation that there is anything amicable between us” and allege the university illegally deployed private security against them.
RMF goes on to refer to Petersen as a puppet who dances to the music of conservative whites and a disposable tool of the white power structure, refusing to engage further with him.
Many hours later, Petersen responds, this time on behalf of the now-formed Special Executive Task Team (SETT). Referring to RMF’s name-calling, Petersen states that, “we believe that your statements go against the objectives of your movement that strives to empower Black people”.
He goes on to explain the purpose of the SETT and states that they will engage with RMF and not Price. Again, Petersen offers to meet with RMF.
The next day, RMF responds with the introductory, “Dear Colonial Administrators”. They go on to compare SETT to black apartheid collaborators and allege that the private security employed by UCT had sexually harassed RMF members. They conclude saying they only want to meet with the Vice-Chancellor.
“Step aside and stop protecting Max Price,” wrote RMF.
Then, a day before RMF erected the now demolished “Shackville”, Petersen wrote back.
“Sadly your communication has degenerated into the politics of personal insult, intolerance, intimidation and threats,” wrote Petersen. “This is completely unacceptable and has no place in a democratic society, let alone an institution of learning.”
He goes on to remind RMF of their agreement to vacate Avenue House – the original deadline was January 25 – and again offers to meet – that is, SETT and RMF.
The meeting would have occurred on Monday, the day RMF erected Shackville.
UCT’s uploaded correspondence then ends on February 16, where the executive requests RMF relocate their shack to a less disruptive venue, a few metres away. RMF defied this, with protest action then culminating on Tuesday night in arrests, the firing of rubber bullets and stun grenades as well as students burning university property.
On Wednesday, Price confirmed during a press briefing that eight protesters had been arrested with six of them being UCT students who were provisionally suspended. The university also applied for an interim interdict.
The full email correspondence can be found at: http://www.uct.ac.za/usr/news/downloads/2016/2016-02-16_Correspondence_SETT_RMF.pdf.