Mass meeting at UP

NTOMBI MKANDHLA

On 18 May, the Temporary Student Committee (TSC) hosted a mass meeting at the Piazza on UP’s Hatfield campus to address student grievances. The gathering was the result of various student bodies and political organisations coming together to petition for the TSC to engage with students. Together, they are known as the UP Student Commission.
Thabo Shingange, the TSC’s deputy chairperson, opened the meeting. In light of the national crisis of female sexual assault, particularly that of the black woman, he stressed his disapproval of UP’s sexual harassment policy. Calling it “flawed and problematic”, he said that those who are offended by those speaking out against issues such as hyper-masculinity and rape are the “very beneficiaries of patriarchy” at the institution.

Initially, Henrico Barnard, the TSC’s chairperson, was meant to chair the meeting. However under pressure from the restless, disapproving crowd, the TSC’s secretary, Cara-Lee Compton ended up as chair. This was because there was a pressing need to deliberate on the alleged rape crisis on campus and the students present felt facilitation from a woman would be most appropriate. In addition, there was an allegation from a female student that Barnard said “blackface is okay” at the 2016 Legal Shebeen election circus. “I as a black woman do not feel protected,” she cried.  This led to an uproar from the crowd resulting in Shingange assisting Compton to chair the meeting instead.
A veterinary student from the Onderstepoort campus shared her concerns with the crowd on the “lack of transformation” on the veterinary campus. She estimates that of all students on the Onderstepoort campus, 70% are white. Furthermore, in order to get placement in the residences, she alleges that one has to apply to the students currently living in the residence resulting in the “unfair” placements. Labelling Onderstepoort a “young apartheid”, she said students are discouraged from voicing their opinions on such issues, claiming that her HK went as far as summoning her to an informal disciplinary hearing where she was told to “keep quiet”.
The first agenda of the meeting was that of the referendum of the Constitution of Student Governance (CSG). Andile Zulu, Sasco chairperson, and Caroline Letsoalo, the deputy-chairperson of EFFSC-UP, spoke on behalf of the UP Student Committee. Zulu started off by saying, “The most instrumental systems they have put in place is that of academic exclusions where they create voids and spaces, which are distractions which end up excluding black students.” He also questioned the university’s access control where bouncers are “infringing [students’] personal space”.
Letsoalo described the CSG as “anti-black and anti-poor” and something that favours Afrikaner students at UP. She called for a total review of the constitution, highlighting that many students do not know what the CSG actually is and what it contains. Furthermore, Letsoalo called for “harsh provisions” for perpetrators of sexual violence on campus. “In this institution you will be punished more for plagiarising than being a sexual offender,” she stressed.
Zulu then moved his attention to the TSC who were appointed by management under Section 33 of the CSG but are “supposedly representing the interests of [students]”. He echoed Letsoalo’s call for a total review of the constitution, labelling the current one “problematic” as it “minimises the [student voice]”. He proposed an amendment of the constitution where all student voices are taken into consideration.
The second issue on the agenda was that of constitutional amendments. Zulu said that amendments should not only be on issues of the SRC, but also of the residence policy where he claimed black students have to be “sourced out to Eastwoods and The Fields”, whereas white, Afrikaner students, being a minority, are favoured for university residence placements. He stressed that he was not making “the white person an enemy”, but spoke to bring to light the issues that affected the larger student body.
A student voiced her concern over the power the council and senate have to intervene during the constitutional amendment. She called for an amendment that is driven, approved and mandated by students.
The third point brought forward was accommodation and funding. The issue of the 50% white and 50% “other” quota was brought to light with students calling it an unfair split. A student said that instead of marks as a deciding factor for res placements, distance should be a key contributor. “Townships are not a conducive place of study,” he said.
Another student recounted a time when an alleged 30 students had to seek shelter at Elim Church when they were turned away by TuksRes. She added that historically, black people are deprived and have their “voices suppressed by a white minority”. The issue of racial segregation within the residences was highlighted where it is rare for blacks and whites (or individuals of different races) to share a room. Shingange bashed the common excuse of “culture shock”, as he said there is a tendency of “homogenising” blackness where black people are often paired together irrespective of their own cultures, which are often different.
Institutional culture was then brought to the fore with women speaking up against the alleged silence the university has adopted in relation to rape culture. A student said, “Patriarchy is allowing perpetrators to walk amongst us”. Students discussed the bureaucracy around getting help once been sexually assaulted. Viewed as a daunting process (to report incidents of rape), there was a call for a 24-hour centre to handle not only rape cape cases but homophobic ones as well. Students claimed that there is a war on “queer black bodies”.
In a South African context, a student said black females are not safe, particularly those who identify as queer. One student called for gender-neutral bathrooms as many students like her are non-binary.
On the issue of mass suspensions, exclusions and expulsions, some students noted that the fallists have been labelled as disruptors and “hooligans”, when activism is “actually an act of love”. Surprise Silowe, chairperson of EFFSC-UP said that “some students were expelled without exhausting external processes” and, unlike activists at the University of Witwatersrand (Wits) who were given amnesty, the UP activists were “victimised”.
A lot of frustration was directed to the TSC whose members are “seated in an ivory tower”. There were calls for the TSC to meet with management later on that day to deliberate on the student problems. Shingange then called for the UP Student Commission to consolidate among themselves and present the TSC with a memorandum, which both parties will then share with management.

With regards to a student raising "the issue of the 50% white and 50% “other” residence quota", UP’s media spokesperson, Candice Jooste, disputes students’ claims that the university has a racial quota for accepting students into residences.

 “Our racial demographics in our residences are currently sitting at 60.32% black and 39.68% white,” she said. "Students are placed in residences according to the date of their application,” Jooste added.

 

Photo: Raimund Nel
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