Constitutional clause causes chaos: Black ex-officio SRC members step down for white candidates to take their places

MARKO SVICEVIC, SHAUN SPROULE, HENRI UYS, CHAD JOHNSTON

On 31 August, the 2017/2018 Student Representative Council (SRC) was officially inaugurated. The inauguration however was only held for the 12 elected members and not for the ex-officio SRC members. According to an opening address at the inauguration by Director of the Department of Student Affairs, Dr Matete Madiba, the full SRC could not be inaugurated due to certain procedures and constitutional issues. Citing this, several reports began to appear on social media that the SRC would possibly not be constituted properly in terms of section 12 of Annexure A of the Constitution for Student Governance (CSG). This section provides for what happens when the SRC is not constituted by at least 40% black, white, male and female members. The ex-officio portfolios include seven seats on the SRC; two academic affairs sub-council representatives, two residence sub-council representatives, one RAG committee representative, one sport committee representative and one student culture committee representative.

On 29 August, the academic affairs executive committee held a meeting in which Romario Roman (from the Law Faculty House) and Boniswa Tele (from the Education Faculty House) were elected as the ex-officio members of the committee. On 31 August, Boniswa Tele was replaced by Janie Geldenhuys from the EBIT Faculty House. Romario Roman maintained his position as an ex-officio member.

On 18 August, the sport executive committee held a meeting in which Rose Msomi was elected as the ex-officio member of the committee. On 4 September, a re-election was held to ensure a white candidate was voted into the ex-officio position, and Therese Rodink was voted in as ex-officio member.

On 16 August, the RAG executive committee held a meeting in which Bradley Tjongarero was elected as the ex-officio member of the committee. On 7 September a re-election was held and Phindile Makhombothi was elected.

On 29 August, the student culture executive committee held a meeting and Rudi Peters was elected as the ex-officio member of the committee. On 4 September, a re-election for the ex-officio portfolio was held with the aim of ensuring a white person was voted into the position. Consequently, Moné Erasmus was voted in as ex-officio for student culture.

On 7 September, the residence sub-council committee held a meeting and Aaron Masemola (Olienhout residence) and Heidi Davis (Asterhof residence) were elected as the ex-officio members of the committee.

On 8 September, an official inauguration ceremony was held for the ex-officio members at Adlers Restaurant. The ex-officio members were inaugurated along with Mamello Molotsi, the SRC Deputy President who could not be inaugurated on 31 August.

 

The stepping down of black ex-officio members to make place for white members

According to one student culture executive committee member who preferred to remain anonymous, ex-officio positions were moved around because the SRC needed to have a certain number of white members as well as women, which they did not have. “We felt it was very undemocratic to change our SRC representative for the sake of the quota for the SRC. Even the white people with us felt that it was unfair, they felt they were being put in a position they were not ready to do. One EC member even said we felt like we had a gun to our head.” The member added that Dr Madiba, Dr Jorissen (Deputy Director of the Department of Student Affairs) and Mzikazi Noholoza (Head of Student Governance) came into the meeting and “before we could even say what we wanted to say, Dr Madiba told us that if we don’t comply UP will be taken to court. We felt that the ex-officio positions were not being protected. Dr Madiba told us that of the seven positions, five had to be white and four of these white members had to be female. We were told that consideration was given to remove our ex-officio portfolio from the SRC if we didn’t comply. We were also told that if we didn’t comply a TSC might be put in place. We didn’t even know about this quota system before … how come this has only come up now. As a committee, we vote for the best candidates and not according to race.” The member added that “The person who stepped into the position of the elected ex-officio member didn’t even apply for the position initially. Later that day we held a meeting to vote in a new ex-officio member - and we collectively decided that there were only two members that could be nominated and those were the two white females. Then we voted and the person voted in didn’t stand for the position originally but was eventually voted in. These elections were not free and fair.”

Another former ex-officio member, who also preferred to remain anonymous, told Perdeby the same story. The member confirmed that they were given no choice but to step down from their position. They also confirmed that they were told the same consequences would result if they did not step down. The member said that they were told to step down by their manager, Dr Madiba and Dr Jorissen. The member said that they believed that the initial elections in which the ex-officio members were elected were free and fair, “but what the DSA did with the election results [afterwards], no.” When asked to explain, the member said, “Because we were fairly voted in, we worked hard...people saw us as capable and we were voted in, only to be told that because of your race, you can’t take this position, because we need the demographics of the SRC to look a certain way.”

Another ex-officio member who spoke to Perdeby, and also preferred to remain anonymous, said that the decision has had a huge impact on them personally and has forced them to question their own leadership skills, capabilities and how they are perceived based on the colour of their skin. “I felt that the decision was unfair towards me personally. But sometimes you have to come to the realisation that you can’t only think about yourself but you have to do what is greater for the larger [student] body.” They continued to express their dissatisfaction with the university “constantly preaching transformation” but not acting on it. The member also confirmed that they were not aware of the limitations of section 12 of the CSG and if they were they would not have put in as much effort as they did to run for the ex-officio position. “Management and the DSA came with lots of threats saying that there would be consequences if we continued [operating] how we are.”

Finally, they said that the notion that coloureds and indians are classified as ‘black’ is problematic and that, “we should stop living according to a constitution that only favours one category.”

 

 

White members express their views on the matter
Janie Geldenhuys, a third year Electrical Engineering student from the EBIT Faculty House, was elected chairperson of the faculty house in August. The chairperson is automatically part of the academic sub-council. Nine people sit on the academic sub-council and from there, two persons are elected to sit on the SRC. “After the election of the ex-officio members we thought it was all fine but then on 31 August an emergency meeting was called. “Prior to the meeting we were informed of the quota problem and were to discuss this in the meeting,” she said. “Initially there was a bit of hostility in the meeting since the election already took place, Dr Madiba said we can be non-compliant but the SRC might be suspended. The next option presented was that the elected person step down in order for white people to take their place. This discussion went on for about two hours, everyone wanted to know what exactly the constitution said and I did not feel comfortable taking their position without their consent,” she added. Out of the nine academic sub-council positions – Geldenhuys was the only candidate who could run in order to fill the quota. “Since I was the only candidate, I would take the position then our first goal would be to change the constitution, then once the quota system was removed from the SRC I would resign and in accordance with the constitution another election would be held and that person that was initially elected would be able to take that position. After this meeting, the academic sub-council expressed the view that they liked that idea and Boniswa (the member initially elected as one of two ex-officio members) agreed to it – Boniswa agreed that it was best that I take this position temporarily instead of her having that position and then having a TSC put in place.” “On 6 September I received an email inviting me to the inauguration ceremony – I was never officially informed that I was given the ex-officio position,” she said. “I don’t think this was fair – I don’t think the way the constitution was set up is fair. Its not fair to have elected people step down because they have been elected by the student body. We tried to come up with other solutions but there was no other solution we could come up with other than this one. Dr. Madiba lead the emergency meeting and I think she conducted it well because she was put in a very difficult position – I have a lot of respect for her for being so objective in finding a solution with the students, she asked for our opinion.”

According to Moné Erasumus, a fourth year English Honours student part of the student culture committee, “Last week Tuesday we elected the ex-officio. We elected Rudi because he was the best candidate, only afterwards we found out about the quota system.” Erasmus explained that “We had a choice, we didn’t have to replace him but if we didn’t a TSC might have been put in place and so we decided as a group and agreed to make the change.” Erasmus adds that it was a very frustrating situation because “it discouraged students because he worked hard and couldn’t stand in that position because of the quota. A big problem is the constitution. We had a meeting on Monday morning (4 September) then that evening I was elected, there were two white females that ran and I was the one that was elected.” Erasmus also said that “For the future the quota system needs to be changed, all non-white students are not black, there should rather be more categories otherwise it protects white persons. Rudi is Afrikaans and Zulu and such a fully rounded person but he had to step down because of the constitution. Perhaps change the quota to 70/30, rather put it in the students’ hands than leave it up to the constitution. The constitution is no longer in the best interests of the students especially as we have a vast majority of students on campus that are not white, a big problem in this situation is the constitution,” she said.

 

The legal side of section 12
According to the deputy dean of the Faculty of Law, Prof. Anton Kok, the CSG states that if the elected SRC profile is not at least 40% black, white, male or female, then the Chief Electoral Officer and the relevant sub-councils and committees “must aim to decide to elect ex officio SRC members to address the race and gender profile.” Prof. Kok adds that “This is something completely different than saying the SRC ‘must’ be 40% white, black, male, female.”

“The statute of the university provides that the SRC must be representative of UP's student population. So the CSG simply aims at getting that right - to get a SRC in place that is broadly representative of the student population,” said Prof. Kok.

 

 

Dr Madiba on the matter
Perdeby spoke to Dr Madiba regarding the situation. Dr Madiba started off by saying that “the constitution doesn’t talk about quotas, but about representation” adding that the constitution said that after the student body had elected the SRC, ex-officio portfolios were used to create a balance in terms of having the 40% representation of race and gender on the SRC. When the DSA had realised that there was non-compliance with the constitution it was decided that the ex-officio portfolios would not be inaugurated until ways of getting the representation of the SRC compliant with the constitution. Dr Madiba said that they started with meetings between staff members and then meetings with the members involved and then organised larger meetings with all members involved. According to Dr. Madiba, three solutions were explored: The first solution was to simply ignore the representation and inaugurate the members; the second option was not to inaugurate the members but to ask Council to “Please condone non-compliance to the SRC and allow us continue as is”; the third option was the compliance route and negotiate with candidates to try and find a “balance”. It was decided that the third option would be used although Dr Madiba admitted that some candidates discouraged the non-compliance route. Before the matter could be taken to Council there must first have been an attempt to comply with the constitution, she added. “From the beginning it was clear that it won't help to go and undo these elections that have been carried out with so much care … it was clear that there was nothing that RAG could do because the executive committee is all black, so we went into discussions and they were very unpleasant discussions because part of the reservations from students was why did you allow this to go this far.” Dr Madiba also added that the reason for the situation arising was that “There is, in general, a lower level of participation from white candidates and even further, white female candidates… the problem is not with the vote but with the participation”. “We have never seen this low level of white participation,” she added. The question of discrimination was also raised as well as the “anti-black” perception of the situation and even whether this was against the national Constitution of the country but “at the end of the day students said we understand this is a problem for us,” said Dr Madiba. Some students were even aware that where the representation did not occur, Council had the power to put in a place a TSC, she added. Stuku and Sport had to go into a process to clarify who would be put in place as the ex-officio to meet the representation required. In the faculty houses only one candidate was white and only one of two ex-officio were changed. Dr. Madiba said that they then went to the residences and explored the situation there and were still awaiting the response from residences. The situation of having both residence ex-officio’s as white members and how that could be perceived as working against transformation was then raised. “If you ask me personally then as a university community how do we define transformation,” Dr Madiba questioned, adding that one view on transformation was representation. Dr Madiba added that it was highly undesirable in having an all white, all male residence representation but that some people have said it would be “equally problematic to have a fully black SRC, as if that is the only category of students on campus.” After all these discussion it was agreed on at least 40% from each of these groups (black and white). Dr Madiba also explained that the quota system was not undoing transformation but merely giving detail to representation, adding the scenario of what would have happened if there was an all white representation, the quota would still be needed. One suggestion Dr Madiba made was that perhaps representation should be linked to the number of participants and not representation in terms of the larger student body.

However, Dr Madiba rejected claims that the candidates were “forced” to step down from their positions saying that there was a process of discussions and this option was left to the student committees themselves.

 

TSC and SRC on the matter
According to Temporary Student Committee (TSC) Chairperson Henrico Barnard, the first thing to note is that the constitution not only refers to a race imbalance but also a gender imbalance. “The benefit of the quota system ensures inclusivity and representatively – it ensures that the SRC is not dominated by a single cultural or gender view,” adding that “The ideal in a perfect world would have been to elect members by merit.” He further adds that “With the previous injustices that have featured in SA, it was mainly focused on the basis of race and gender- therefore it was good to have that clause in there. Its not the first time the clause has been used by the DSA. I blame the DSA there for double standards – in 2015 Thandeka Mogoerane was appointed to serve as an ex-officio where as Pieter Scribante was actually elected into the ex-officio position for Stuku (when the chairperson was automatically the ex-officio person). Only now the DSA has been considering amending the CSG quota system, although no submissions on the amendments have been made,” he added. “In the past there were white people who couldn’t serve on the SRC because of this clause but the DSA never said anything but this year the DSA is focusing on the clause,” he explained. “You can’t change the document you are using in the election for the election – therefore changing the clause now is not an option.

Substructures should align their constitutions with the CSG in ensuring representation. The clause is also linked to the statute of the university – therefore the statute needs to be changed if you want to amend things at this point.

Barnard further added that “I am happy with the way the DSA handled the situation especially to Dr Madiba, since it was done quickly and constructively, they showed commitment to having the right process followed.

According to the 2017/2018 SRC President Kwena Moloto, the quota clause in the CSG was initially implemented to protect marginalised groups, saying that “this is the first time where the reverse has happened – we’ve all known for a very long time the constitution was flawed, unfortunately the referendum fell through to amend the constitution.” Moloto said that “as an SRC we aim to amend the constitution, specifically that provision but also other problematic provisions.” I think its been handled very poorly on the side of the IEC, there were process that were meant to be followed which weren’t’ – this resulted in democratically elected members losing their positions which is extremely unfair. However, this is not the first time the CSG was used against students, in 2015 we saw it when I was removed from office, we saw it in 2016 when the constitution was amended to ensure the then SRC operate and now we see it again where black ex-officio members have had to step down.” Kwena explained that “I think that this election has shown that we have matured as a democracy especially here at UP, I think that at the end of the day we need to be consistent, democracy is democracy, who students want to lead them, must lead them, its then clear that this provision needs to be scrapped entirely.” He also added that “I would say to the elected ex-officio members, keep your heads up, I know from experience what it feels like to lose a position you worked for months on end, you don’t need a position to serve students, I know that every single one of those members are leaders and I have no doubt that they’ll continue to serve students.”

 

Illustration: Sally Hartzenberg. 

Infographic: Shaun Sproule. 

Photo: Stefan Stander. 

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