Racism plagues UFS

Despite the appointment of its first black vice chancellor, the University of the Free State (UFS) still gets slammed with allegations of racism.

In 2009 when Professor Jonathan Jansen was appointed as the first black vice chancellor of UFS, hopes were high that this could be the change the university needed to fight back against racist claims. All facts point to Jansen having made in-roads, despite the slamming he is now receiving from the student movement.

Luzuko Buku, representative of the South African Students Congress (SASCO) said: “What Jansen has done since his arrival in the University of Free State is not to transform the university from its notorious racist conditions on black students but he has been working very hard to protect and cover up racism by sweeping such cases under the carpet.”

Covering up 

Last week it was alleged that two white UFS students, Kobus Muller and Charl Blom, tried to drive over a group of black pedestrians, side-swiping Dumane “Muzi” Gwedu, a fifth year BCom student. Gwedu then followed the car until it came to a stop where he approached the two drivers. This resulted in a violent attack on Gwedu.[pullquote] “The accused called the victims “kaffirs” and then drove off”[/pullquote]

A News24 article reported that Jansen had doubts about whether the incident was indeed racist, even though the accused called the victims “kaffirs” and then drove off.

During his inaugural speech in 2009, Jansen chose to forgive four white UFS students who, in 2008, filmed a video humiliating and degrading black campus workers. In his speech, Jansen dropped the case against these students and said, “They are my students. I cannot deny them any more than I can deny my own children.”

The move was controversial with some terming it a brave gesture of reconciliation and others warning it sent the wrong message to racists. Since the incident, Jansen has been blamed for adopting too reconciliatory an approach.

Racist reports 

Other incidents of alleged racism at UFS were reported in 2010 when a female student, Pinky Mokemane, was dragged next to a car driven by two white UFS students.[pullquote align=”right”]”Student accommodation for a ‘non-affirmative action’ female.”[/pullquote]

In January 2014, an advertisement appeared in a Bloemfontein newspaper, advertising student accommodation for a “non-affirmative action” female. The VC reacted by distancing himself and the university from the advert, which shows embedded racial profiling within the UFS community. He said:  “The varsity does not oversee private accommodation and it makes it difficult to regulate the ridiculous requirements they have of some students.”

Another ongoing example of racial profiling at UFS is their residence segregation. It appears that there are still many residences which give white students preference. With only 20% of UFS students being accommodated at the institution’s residences it is hard enough finding a spot if you’re white, let alone black.

UFS has its form of a transformation office too, the Institute for Reconciliation and Social Justice, an institute made for research and discussion among specialists, international students and politicians.

The general student body apparently can go to the Human Rights desk. This desk was not available for three days. The co-ordinator, Breggie Hofman Wits Vuvuzela was informed, was out of town and the second in charge “had a crisis”. Students will just have to save those reports of racism for later.

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SRC nominations begin

Current SRC members Tasneem Essop, Katleho Sera and Sibulele Mgudlewa . The new SRC will start their term in November.

Current SRC members Tasneem Essop, Katleho Sera and Sibulele Mgudlewa . The new SRC will start their term in November. Photo: Nokuthula Manyathi

THE SRC nomination process has begun and the two biggest political organisations at Wits will be among those facing off to lead the university’s students.

Nominations for new SRC members opened on July 30 and will close on August 6 at 3pm. Any student can be a candidate provided they get the required 25 signatures from fellow students who support their nomination. The signatures must then be taken to the Student Development and Leadership Unit offices in the Matrix.
SA Student Congress president (Sasco) Tshepo Lethea said the ANC Youth League, Muslim Student Association and Sasco will be running together under the banner of the Progressive Youth Alliance (PYA). Democratic Alliance Student Organisation (Daso) president Luyolo Mphiti said his party would be competing strongly in the elections and he intended to become SRC president.
Students must apply for their candidacy and gather signatures as individuals. However, many students also run under the banner of larger political organisations following an internal nomination process by those parties.
Both PYA and Daso said their internal nomination processes were yet to begin. Mphiti said Daso’s electoral college for screening candidates had only just opened. He said they were under the assumption that the nomination season will be moved to September but they would still be ready by Tuesday deadline.

Lethea said they had not yet begun nominating PYA candidates: “We don’t have candidates as yet but by Tuesday we will be ready.”He said their development committee, which was still to be chosen, would be responsible for screening the members.According to Lethea the development committee is made up of “old and experienced” students who “know what they are talking about”.

Lethea said the committee will be looking for many things in their candidates including team chemistry: “We need to see if those comrades will be able to work together to complete the mandate given to them.”
Mphiti said the qualities Daso was looking for in its candidates were, among other things, “a set of principles consistent with DA policies”.
The elections will be held on August 27, 28 and 29.

SRC faces dissolution over charges

The Wits Student Representative Council (SRC)  is pulling out all the stops to get misconduct charges dropped that could result in the dissolution of the SRC.

SURVIVOR SRC: SRC President Sibulele Mgudlwa claims intimidation.    Photo: Mia Swart

SURVIVOR SRC: SRC President Sibulele Mgudlwa claims intimidation. Photo: Mia Swart

The incident under scrutiny relates to the disruption of a musical recital by the Israeli born pianist Yossi Reshef. The disruption was part of a protest during Israeli Apartheid Week.  Nine members of the executive of the SRC are charged for not going through proper processes for protests, creating a hostile environment and refusing to obey orders from the university.

These are among other charges such as pushing members of university security, aggressively stomping feet, shouting, chanting, failing to respect the rights and freedom of the attendees at the concert. In addition, they “demeaned and/or humiliated and/or created an environment of intolerance”.

SRC president, Sibulele Mgudlwa said: “According to the SRC constitution if you are found guilty, then you can’t be a member of the SRC.”

Outgoing Vice Chancellor Loyiso Nongxa, issued a statement saying  senior counsel has been appointed to act in lieu of a student discipline committee to chair the hearing, and to carry out all of its functions. And “as such, he or she will make a decision as to whether or not to publish details of the disciplinary proceedings”.[pullquote]“It’s just an environment that is not conducive to student governance.” [/pullquote]

Nongxa said if someone is found guilty, the person presiding decides on “the appropriate sanction”.

The SRC as a whole could not be disbanded, but it will work on a “case by case” basis. If enough members are found guilty and asked to step down, re-elections could be held or the vice chancellor can appoint a temporary SRC council.

SRC Vice President External, Joy Phiri said: “Finding a guilty verdict directly suggests that it is inappropriate for student leaders to fight just causes and that in itself is a negative message that I don’t think the university wants to tag along to.”

Phiri said that the charged members would take all the legal recourse in their power.  SRC vice president internal , Tokelo Nhlapo suggested that they won’t just step down but will appeal the case.

Mgudlwa said:  “It’s an intimidating experience and it really hampers how you do your job.” He added that students come and ask for assistance but between assisting students, the SRC have to address the charges, organize protests, put together press releases and organize responses.

It’s just an environment that is not conducive to student governance.”

If there was an emergency SRC, it would take a whole month to organise as new nominations of candidates have to be called for, as well as submissions and manifestos.

The university has to check whether the students are registered students at Wits and if they are legitimate and credible candidates. After the nominations have been approved, the circuses and the voting process would follow.

It now has more than 100 endorsements to call for the university to drop the charges against them. The endorsements come from a range of  organisations including the Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu) and South African Students Congress (Sasco).

 

 

 

 

“Drop the charges” – Wits SRC

Students join the Wits SRC in protest to have the charges against 11 students (nine of which are SRC members) dropped.

Students join the Wits SRC in protest to have the charges against 11 students (nine of which are SRC members) dropped. Photo: Mia Swart

by Emelia Motsai and Mia Swart.

THE Wits SRC held a protest today demanding that university management drop the charges brought against some of their members and other students.

Eleven students, including nine SRC members were charged for possible contravention of the university’s code of conduct. The group was charged after disrupting a musical recital by Israeli-born pianist Yossi Reshef on March 12 as part of a protest during Israel Apartheid Week.

“Today’s protest was about mobilising students to stand in solidarity with those who have been charged,” said SRC Treasurer, Justice Nkomo.

“We have asked them [Wits management] to drop the charges and they blatantly said: No! We must account for our actions.” said SRC secretary Tasneem Essop.

She said they were being charged for “things like stomping our feet. It is an infringement of our right to protest.”

Billy Sepuru, provincial secretary of South African Students Congress (SASCO), said charges against the SRC were “illegal, immoral and disgusting”.

“We pledge solidarity with the Wits SRC,” he said.

Sepuru said if the charges were not dropped, SASCO would “mobilise the whole province and they will come to Wits and close Wits down”.

He said that “students must come out in protection of the SRC they voted for”.

“The democracy of South Africa is not complete until the people of Palestine have theirs,” said Sepuru.

We have the right to protest

SRC treasurer, Justice Nkomo, speaking at the "Right to Protest" protest.

SRC treasurer, Justice Nkomo, speaking at the “Right to Protest” protest. Photo: Mia Swart

About 50 people took part in the protest which started at the Matrix and then moved to Sanete House to speak to incoming vice chancellor Adam Habib. According to SRC secretary Tasneem Essop the people present were PYA members and general supporters of the SRC.

The group sang struggle songs and chanted “long live Wits SRC long live” and “away with the reactionary management! Away!” They waved placards with the words “It’s my r2p to protest for more parking” and “Silence is Complicity”.

Risana Chauke, 3rd year Chem Eng was part of the protest; she said she believes that students have the right to speak for themselves: “It’s a constitutional right which management has no right to take away from us.”

Nkomo said: “When food is rotten, it is our right to protest! When students pay but there is no parking, it’s our right to protest! When Palestine is being discriminated against, it’s our right to protest”.

Speaking to Habib

SRC members talk to Adam Habib about charges against them being dropped.

SRC members talk to Adam Habib about charges against them being dropped. Photo: Mia Swart

“The right to protest is guaranteed. What is in question is how. Do you intimidate, or do you violate others?” Habib said when the protesters met him at Senate House.

SRC Vice President External Joy Phiri said to Habib “we are pleading with management to say please drop the charges against SRC.

“The charges make it look like management wants to terrorise us and victimise us.”

The SRC asked Habib to get back to them on Monday. Habib said neither he nor the outgoing Vice Chancellor Loyiso Nongxa will be in the country on Monday but Prof Tawana Kupe, Deputy Vice Chancellor for Finance and Operations will act on their behalf.

He added that if the SRC wants a public trial, they should inform management formally and they will look into the request. He said to remember that “these people are being charged. These are allegations, they have not been found guilty. That is what this process is for.”