Cape Town - As UCT vice-chancellor Max Price warned that students occupying the university’s main administration building could face prosecution, the students were unbowed late on Friday, even renaming the building Azania House and posting a notice above the entrance that reads: “Under new management.”
The warning from Price, which included a threat that university leaders would seek High Court intervention, also extended to students who posted racist comments on social media websites, he said, pointing to a hard line against students a day after
their Rhodes Must Fall campaign saw the removal of the statue of British colonialist Cecil John Rhodes from the campus.
The statue has temporarily been moved until a decision is made on its final destination.
Students occupied the Bremner Building on March 20, vowing to remain until the statue was removed. Price said they were breaching the agreement and had been informed that “failure to comply with the requirement that they end their occupation of the building will be unlawful”.
“(It) will be a contravention of the rules of conduct and will have disciplinary consequences.
“We also informed the occupiers that should they not comply, we will have no choice but to approach the High Court for an order compelling them to do so,” he warned.
It was, however, open to mediation, Price added, but he complained that the students had been “severely disrupting the work of UCT administration, including, from time-to-time, behaviour that had the effect of harassing staff and evicting some from their offices, and disrupting meetings”.
“We have moved staff to work in other buildings and some have worked from home. We have tolerated this disruption to allow the process of consultation and decision on the removal of the Rhodes statue to run its course,” he said.
But the university would not tolerate violence, as witnessed during the Rhodes statue removal on Thursday. Some students and members of political parties present – the EFF, ANC and PAC – had pushed down the fencing around the statue. EFF members also stopped the truck transporting the statue, trying to push it off the vehicle.
The Rhodes Must Fall campaigners has also “crossed a line of acceptable protest, ignoring the SRC’s pleas, when they stormed into the (UCT) council meeting on Wednesday”.
“This behaviour was completely unacceptable, challenged the authority of council, could have risked preventing council from completing its business, and will result in prosecutions of the students involved,” said Price.
“I am also aware of the incidents of chants of ‘one settler, one bullet’ as was heard at both the council (Wednesday) meeting and at the occasion of the removal of the statue.
“I wish to express my dismay that this has happened, condemn all acts of intimidation and reckless utterances as they have no place in our democracy, and are in serious conflict with the values of the university.”
They had also been “disgusted by the volume and vitriol of racist comments made primarily in the online social media, but also some graffiti on the boards assembled for people to write comments on”.
“We are investigating every one of them. Most are under pseudonyms and cannot be traced.
“Where there are names, we have not been able to link any such postings to any UCT students or staff. But if we can, we will be determined in prosecuting the authors,” he said.
Rhodes Must Fall campaigner Busisiwe Nxumalo said they remained committed to occupying Bremner, “until all our demands are met”.
“We are still going to occupy the building. We want to fight for workers and make sure that students are heard.”
Nxumalo said the removal from campus of the Rhodes statue was a “small victory”.
However Student Representative Council president Ramabina Mahapa said the student body had distanced itself from the Bremner occupation.
Hannetjie du Preez, acting chief executive of Heritage Western Cape (HWC), said the statue “forms part of the declared provincial heritage site known as the Upper Campus” on UCT.
“In light of concerns for the safety of the statue, an urgent application was made to HWC for the removal and temporary safe-keeping of the Rhodes statue by the university,’ she said. – Additional reporting by Jan Cronje