By Nokuthula Manyathi and Pheladi Sethusa
As Dean of Students Prem Coopoo spends her sixth week on special leave, the rumour mill churns out speculation and the university remains silent about the reason.
Week to week Wits Vuvuzela has been given the run around when trying to find out more about the situation.
Initially staff and students had been informed Coopoo’s absence would only last for a week.
Wits spokesperson Shirona Patel told Wits Vuvuzela last month that Coopoo was placed on special leave pending investigations but would not specify the nature of the investigation.
This week director of special projects, Oliver Seale, said Lamese Abrahams had been appointed the acting dean of students.
He went on to say: “University management is currently in negotiations with Ms P Coopoo on this matter.
We will notify the entire university community on this matter as soon as the negotiations are concluded.”
Some of the rumours Wits Vuvuzela has heard include that the university has plans to change the position of the dean of students, taking away the title of dean. Seale responded to this by saying that was not the case: “Please note that the negotiations with the current incumbent and (sic) not on the job title.”
Wits Vuvuzela contacted six members in executive management, including Vice Chancellor Adam Habib, but could not obtain further comment.
THE DEAN of students, Prem Coopoo, has been on special leave for the past two weeks, since August 2, with little clarity on when she will return.
Wits spokesperson Shirona Patel told Wits Vuvuzela that Coopoo had been placed on special leave pending an investigation.
Elaine Milton, head of employee relations at Wits, said the reasons behind Coopoo’s absence are “personal and private” and she could not comment on them.
Wits Vuvuzela tried numerous times to get in touch with Coopoo and other members in management for more information but to no avail.
Head of Residence Life Rob Sharman has been named acting dean of students while Coopoo is on special leave.
According to the university’s website, the office of the dean of students facilitates student life and the academic life of students. It also assists with programmes and services to students.
The dean of students also provides “the strategic direction and co-ordination of all student affairs operations” and sets “clear and specific expectations for staff involvement in facilitating students’ experiences”.
There are nice gift incentives for good behaviour: the dean of students, Prem Coopoo, presented members of the Wits All Residence Council (ARC) with tablets last month.
Fifteen of the 18 ARC members were promised tablets as an incentive to ensure that last year’s all residence “Wits 90” heritage celebration picnic would be incident free.
In an email interview with Wits Vuvuzela, Coopoo confirmed this.
Coopoo said because of previous misconduct at the ARC picnics, there was a lot of debate on the future of the ARC picnic. The Student Services Advisory Committee had then decided that 2012’s ARC would be granted permission to host the picnic based on certain conditions.
“As an incentive to host an incident free picnic, I offered the ARC members tablets,” said Coopoo. “These picnics have always been without incident except for two consecutive years in 2010/2011 when we had alcohol abuse and a stabbing,” said Coopoo
Coopoo said her office had provided the funding for the tablets and that the tablets were for the members to keep.
Justice Nkomo, former Chairperson of 2011/2012 ARC, was able to confirm that he had received a Proline 9.7” tablet from Coopoo in good faith.
“All members of last year’s ARC received Tablets because of a resolution that emanates from the student advisory committee,” said Nkomo.
According to the company’s website, the Proline tablets retail for R2 295.
Nkomo said the ARC had received the tablet because they put in extra effort in organising the event and that he could not confirm whether other student representative councils would receive gifts if they performed according to the set standards.
Nkomo, upon receiving the tablets, said that other students should not be outraged that the university was spending money on them. He said the Proline tablets were among the most inexpensive on the market.
He added that he hoped to re-launch the SRC’s “one student one tablet” campaign so that all students could be equipped.
Update: 12 March 2013
SAUJS has written to Wits Vuvuzela retracting allegations of hate speech against Tokelo Nhlapo, as explained in the original article below, and offered a formal apology.
SAUJS further said that Nhlapo painting over the mural was not “against university regulations”.
The organisation attributes their initial allegations to “an unfortunate internal error in communication within SAUJS”. Wits Vuvuzela quoted SAUJS media officer Gabriella Tobias throughout the article below and according to SAUJS national liaison officer Harry Hoshovsky an “erroneous and incorrect” release was sent from Tobias’s email address “without her knowledge”.
“SAUJS fundamentally respects Mr Nhlapo’s right to freedom of expression, even though we may not agree with his opinions regarding Israel. Thus, we wish to sincerely apologise to Mr Nhlapo with respect to this dubious accusation being erroneously published on our behalf,” Hoshovsky said in an updated statement.
Hoshovsky added that SAUJS did not intend to accuse Nhlapo of hate speech, despite him calling the mural “racist and wrong”.
Original: 11 March 2013
The South African Union of Jewish Students (SAUJS) have accused an SRC member of hate speech, following what they label as “racist remarks” uttered during Israel Awareness Week.
Earlier this week Wits Vuvuzela reported that SRC vice president Tokelo Nhlapo and a fellow student painted over the mural as the duo believed that the mural was “racist and wrong”. Nhlapo also said: “most of these countries (portrayed on the wall) have signed a peace treaty with Israel”. SAUJS maintains that only two Arab countries (Egypt and Jordan) have signed peace treaties with Israel.
“As it stands, Nhlapo has been given a clear platform to spew his totally inaccurate, virulent and defamatory hate speech,” SAUJS media officer Gabriella Tobias said in a statement sent to Wits Vuvuzela.
SAUJS painted the wall in conjunction with an exhibition to raise awareness about Israel’s small geographical size compared to its hostile neighbouring states and Israel’s existence among students.
Nhlapo further alleged that if Israel wanted peace it “would stop the illegal occupation of Gaza”, a comment which SAUJS has rubbished. “This is factually wrong as Israel unilaterally and totally withdrew its military presence in Gaza in 2005 along with all its Jewish population.”
“Currently Israel maintains a UN-supported blockade on Gaza so as to prevent military material reaching Hamas terrorists,” Tobias added.
According to Nhlapo, the Muslim Students Association (MSA) and Palestinian Solidarity Alliance (PSA) have lodged a complaint with the Dean of Student Affairs Prem Coopoo, “who approved the artwork”.
Tobias said that Nhlapo contravened Wits regulation when he painted over the mural, as the wall was not booked by any society. However the Dean of Student Affairs Prem Coopoo said: “The time that SAUJS had booked the wall had expired. The next day onwards, it was booked by the MSA and that’s the reason for clearing the wall”.
At least two female students have reported bad experiences during unsanctioned initiations at their residences during O-Week.
In one case, the victim said she was made uncomfortable by the “sexist” undertones during an encounter with students from a male residence.
“We’re not allowed to look any of the guys in the eye, but that defeats the whole point of orientation and getting to know each other,” said the first year, who asked to remain anonymous out of fear of being singled out.
Although she feels victimized, the student said she still though initiation was important “but to some extent we have lost the point.” She said she was especially frightened by the incident because she comes from a conservative family.
The incident was reported to the Dean of Students Prem Coopoo.
“First year students are meant to be orientated to Wits, not initiated. They need to feel connected to Wits and cared for – not fearful of seniors,” Coopoo said.
Coopoo said students are encouraged to report initiations as outlined in the O-week guidebook.
Third year BEd student and JCE resident Hannah Makgopa said initiation “helps to build bonds among first years.”
She said as part of the JCE tradition, first years are given new nicknames that are written on “virginity tags” which they have to wear around their necks for the duration of O-Week. Makgopa said the nicknames are created by the seniors and are not meant to be malicious.
“When I think of my first year I wish I can do it again,” said Makgopa.
Not all O-week residence activities have gone down well with management: last year initiations were banned at Men’s Residence after some of its residents disrupted an inter-residence talent show while intoxicated. Many people also remarked at how “hardcore” and “militant” the Men’s Residence initiations were.
“Men’s Res was a bit too harsh, if [the first years] do one mistake its 10 pushups or until they say stop,” said Makgopa.
However, Men’s Res student Muzi Phungula said he felt pity for the first years that live at Men’s Residence because they will not be able to go through the “fun things” that he went through in his first year.
He said first years are usually scared at first because it’s a new environment and it can be a “dramatic experience” but initiation built bonds with a shared experience.
A former house committee member from Sunnyside, Memme Monyela, said Men’s Residence initiations were much more “hardcore” than any other residence. She said the first years at Men’s Res were made to run around the field half-naked and occasionally had to brush their teeth with water from the coy fish pond outside the John Moffat Building.
Monyela said there are routine things that are done for fun such as waking first years up at 5am for a run on the field.
“There were others who just didn’t want to participate, they would complain and say ‘We’re tired’” said Monyela. “Sometimes they would complain that running around the field with people watching was demeaning.”
A second year student from Sunnyside Lebohang Makgopa said her initiation “was harsh, but not as bad as other residences.” “We don’t have these rules like other residences…we are a house of royalty.”
Access denied: Democratic Alliance spokesperson Mmusi Maimane was denied a scheduled speaking slot because it allegedly violated O-week protocol. Photo: Provided
A speech by Democratic Alliance (DA) spokesperson Mmusi Maimane during O-week was cancelled, allegedly because the party’s Wits youth wing failed to follow university procedure.
The alleged violation of protocol by the DA Student Organisation (DASO) resulted in Maimane being denied a speaking slot shortly before he was scheduled to address students.
Tokelo Nhlapo, SRC vice-president, told Wits Vuvuzela Maimane did not get permission to address students.
Prem Coopoo, dean of students, said she approves all society events of a political nature and does not allow any political speakers on campus during O-week. She added that the new executive committee may not have been aware of the procedure.
Maimane claimed censorship
Maimane said he was not allowed to speak at the clubs and societies’ marquee on the Great Hall piazza, although DASO had confirmed a 15-minute time slot the day before. The SRC drew up a timetable to give different societies the opportunity to promote themselves throughout the week.
In a press statement, Maimane described the incident as “anti-democratic bullying” by the “ANCYL-run Wits SRC”. Fourteen of the 15 elected SRC members belong to the Progressive Youth Alliance, a coalition between several student organisations including the Wits ANC Youth League.
“This is yet another example of how the ANC is attempting to close down the democratic space at our universities. There is a growing intolerance in the ANC of differing views,” he said.
[pullquote]”He cannot expect to be given red carpet treatment here because he’s opposition”.[/pullquote]
“Signing up for membership” – photo posted by Maimane (@MaimaneAM) on Twitter during his visit to Wits on Tuesday February 4.
Tshediso Mangope, Wits ANCYL chairperson, accused Maimane of “cheap politicking”.
“This ‘Robin Hood style’ of manoeuvring is not going to assist us … he cannot expect to be given red carpet treatment here because he’s opposition,” Mangope said.
In e-mail correspondence, DASO Wits requested a speaking slot with Apelele Pindani, SRC Clubs and Societies officer, over a week before the start of o-week.
But after Maimane’s arrival, Luyolo Mphithi, DASO Wits leader, said he was informed by the SRC that the society had not received the necessary clearance to have a political figure address students.
“They were telling us that we didn’t get permission to get him inside Wits and that he was not allowed to be inside.”
Published in Wits Vuvuzela (2nd edition), 15th February 2013