Peace agreement at UCT


Sunday, November 6, saw the eight-week long protest action at the University of Cape Town (UCT) come to an end with an agreement signed by executive management, Shackville protesting students and members of the SRC.

The agreement and accompanying negotiations provided clarity on the disciplinary issues regarding the Shackville protest. Further, the agreement mapped a way forward for the remainder of the 2016 academic year and the approaching 2017 academic year.

It also offered clemency to students who were suspended or expelled as a result of their involvement in the February protest action. In February, protests involved the erection of a shack on campus, the burning of historical art pieces as well as cars and UCT vice-chancellor Max Price’s office being set alight.

In order for clemency to be granted, those suspended or expelled were required to sign a declaration acknowledging their conduct during the Shackville protests as wrongful and publicly vowing never to engage in such behaviour again. If the aforementioned students are found to be in contravention of this condition in future, the clemency will be revoked.

The agreement also makes provision for the establishment of a new Institutional Reconciliation and Transformation Commission. The commission is charged with the responsibility of investigating the Shackville protests and protest action that has occurred at UCT since then. Due to inquiries made by the commission, all other disciplinary tribunals investigating the case are placed under a moratorium pending the recommendations of the tribunal. Further, the commission has been tasked with assisting the university in finding solutions on how best to tackle issues; some of which are decolonization, transformation and disability.

Aside from detailing the responsibilities of the commission, the agreement also elaborated on the duties of UCT management staff. According to the agreement, management is required to establish a unit committed to researching the probability of free education as well as lobbying at a national level for monetary assistance for tertiary education. Further, management is expected to provide programmes and plans detailing how decolonization can be approached by the university community as a whole.

In addition, the agreement stipulates that the university can no longer withhold degrees from students who failed to obtain them due to outstanding debts owed. The university is also obliged to find ways of obtaining fees for all undergraduate students who are in good academic standing but cannot afford to complete their studies. Another condition in the agreement is that the university must accommodate students who have opted to write exams in January by making residence, food and transport available for these students.

A Rapid Response Task Team comprised of members from management and student groups was also elected. This task team will monitor the implementation and progress of the requirements stipulated in the agreement.

Khumbulani Jali and Simon Rakei, student leaders who have been involved in the protests, told the Daily Vox that the decision to accept and sign the agreement was not an easy one to make. Jali and Rakei further explained that from their perspective it was a necessary decision in order to change and formulate new tactics and strategical measures. Rakei added that continued protesting has resulted in mental fatigue of protesters. Jali and Rakei have however been subjected to a great deal of criticism for signing the agreement with many of the protesters calling them sellouts.

Shackville TRC released the following statement on their Facebook page after the agreement was signed. In the statement it was clarified that “The struggle for free decolonial education is ongoing and is one that needs to be sustained even outside of universities.” Further, Shackville TRC said that protest action would continue despite the agreement.

They also said that engagement would continue in the form of seminars and political education sessions. Shackville TRC explained that “We will more importantly now redirect our energies into mobilising society and communities and take our onslaught directly to the state itself, encompassing all of the struggles facing the masses of our people. It is not the end, but merely the beginning of a more intensified and broader means of revolt within the country.”

The Shackville TRC concluded their Facebook statement with the following sentiment; “FeesMustFall is not a student struggle, it is a struggle for black dignity for all across the country and a direct attack on capitalistic, patriarchal elitist norms and interests. It will continue.”