The panel discussion planned for yesterday ended in chaos as various student organisations, including the South African Students Congress and the EFF Students Command, clashed as the organiser and secretary-general of the University Law Students Association (USLA), Shatadi Phoshoko, wanted to open the programme and welcome the guests.
Loud chanting from the back of the auditorium drowned her out, with objectors telling her to sit down and be quiet as they did not recognise her.
Phoshoko said she did not know why such animosity had been directed at her, but she knew some people had not been happy about the event.
“I felt attacked and maybe they do not respect me because I am a female. It is shocking behaviour, given the state of the country and the violence being meted out to women. This discussion was also meant to address such issues,” said Phoshoko
USLA president Bono Masakona said it was unprecedented behaviour which it condemned. “The collapsing of a planned academic event due to political struggles that have nothing to do with it is embarrassing. This discussion was meant to bring understanding and more cohesion around this issue which is very topical at the moment.
“The people who disturbed this talk did not wish to engage about xenophobia and femicide. We organised this (event) to unify all students so that we can look at this problem from a law perspective and give viewpoints that are unique.
“We also wanted to reflect and talk about things such as the death penalty which has been a hot topic.”
Masakona said the disruption would reflect badly on law scholars and Unisa as a whole and the organisers had apologised to the panellists and would extend another invitation to them to come again. “Hopefully we will not have this sort of unnecessary squabble and instead engage the matters at hand.”
Head of security at the university JP Matlala condemned the incident and said it was unacceptable.
“We are totally not accepting this behaviour from these students. This was an excellent academic programme meant to help them and include all students. This was going to benefit them in their field of study and there is no valid reason for what they did.
He said in future there would be additional security at venues where such discussions take place.
One of the panellists, Captain Daniel Mavimbela said: “The intention was good, but after what happened we encourage the leadership of students to go back to the drawing board and have a discussion on this shameful behaviour.
“We are confident that this discussion, which needs to be had, will happen in the near future. It would be a great way to engage and share different views while learning and adding to social cohesion in the country.”
A law student who did not want to be named said she felt ashamed to say she was a law student because of the behaviour exhibited by other attendees in her faculty.
“We just embarrassed ourselves in front of prospective employers and equally robbed ourselves of learning something from the learned guests we had.
“That space was not for score settling or showing each other hatred based on whatever reason it was to share and learn.
“We could have grasped something, but because a few people decided that it should not happen, we are here now speaking a different story while the scourge of femicide and xenophobia goes on in the streets.”
Unisa spokesperson Martin Ramotshela said the university would be engaging with the affected parties.