Reflecting on 2016 at UP

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The University of Pretoria (UP) has seen various events over the past year which have brought significant changes. In this article, we take a look at some of the biggest events that occurred at UP in 2016.

Body found on campus
The year started off on a sad, somewhat scary note when a body was found on the Hatfield campus on January 6. The body was found in a bathroom in the early hours of the morning and was identified as 65 year old Johan de Beer, a project manager at the university. Brooklyn SAPS confirmed that the deceased was found with his hands tied but that no blood was found at the scene. A murder case was opened, however, to date no suspects have been arrested.

#OutsourcingMustFall
On January 11 several UP support service staff downed tools in protest against the university’s use of outsourcing. The workers demanded direct employment, an annual 13th cheque, full benefits at the university and a salary increase to R10 000 per month. The protest flared and resulted in the closure of UP from January 12-18. The Economic Freedom Fighters Students Command (EFFSC) UP branch and South African Students Congress (Sasco) members joined the protests. Students who joined the protest were soon interdicted by the university, which prevented protesters from engaging in “unlawful actions”. The protest action forced UP to cancel the annual ‘Welcoming Day’ and to push back first-year orientation by a week. To date, it is unclear whether workers have been insourced yet.

Language policy revision
On February 1 UP announced that a task team had been appointed to review the university’s language policy. The task team was appointed to look into the feasibility of English becoming the only medium of instruction at the university. The announcement was met with mixed reactions with some seeing it as a threat, and others seeing it as progression towards transformation.

SRC raise funds for students
The SRC announced the launch of their R10m game on February 4. The initiative was started with the intention of alleviating student debt. Initially, the campaign aimed to raise R10 million by the end of the first semester. However, due to various circumstances including the shutdown of the university, the initiative was only able to raise R2 million.

#AfrikaansMustFall
The language policy review was one of the factors which led to violent clashes between members of Afriforum Youth, EFFSC_UP, Sasco and the Progressive Youth Alliance (PYA) on February 18. Tensions flared as students squared off against one another. Several students got into verbal confrontations and a few fights even became physical. Two groups then became apparent through demographics. One group marched to the administration building demanding that Afrikaans be protected at UP. The other group moved around campus, disrupting a few classes. The situation became increasingly violent as students clashed with security guards and each other.

The next day UP obtained an interdict against Afriforum, Afriforum Youth and EFFSC_UP which prevented the parties from disrupting normal university operations. Despite this, UP remained closed for the day. Protests began in the streets around the university. Police were called in to monitor the situation. When protesters attempted to light a tyre, police intervened. This led to students throwing rocks at police who then retaliated with rubber bullets and teargas. Police arrested 27 students. A case would eventually be opened against 24 of these students.

The following Monday, students went to court in support of those who were arrested. When students returned to campus, they were met by an opposition group, against the proposed amendments to the language policy. This group blocked the other group from reaching their destination and a standoff ensued. The situation turned violent as rocks and bottles were tossed. Police were called in to diffuse the situation. A massive fight occurred which led to a few injuries among the parties involved. Eventually the situation calmed and the groups dispersed. The violence prompted a shutdown of the university until February 29.

SRC re-elections postponed
2016 saw UP’s SRC act for most of the year without a legitimate president. This was after Kwena Moloto, the student who won the election for the portfolio of president, was deemed ineligible to hold the position. The re-election was pushed back due to the #OutsourcingMustFall and #AfrikaansMustFall protests and by the time Fees Must Fall protests started, was abandoned all together.

SRC legitimacy called into question
On May 9 UP’s official student newspaper, Perdeby, published an article in which they had uncovered several procedural irregularities committed by the SRC. This included unlawfully electing interim chairperson Thabo Shingange, who took over the responsibilities of the president, failing to uphold several of their responsibilities as set out by UP’s constitution of student governance (CSG) and being involved in questionable amendments to the CSG. These along with other irregularities were highlighted in the article. On May 16, Perdeby published another article in which questions around the irregularities were explained and answered. On July 19 the SRC issued a public apology.

Further irregularities were found in August with regard to the suspension of an SRC member, several societies not being allowed to amend their constitutions and various student forums which had not taken place.

New language policy approved
A new language policy in which English would be the only medium of instruction and assessment from 2017, was approved by the Council of the University of Pretoria on June 22. This means that from 2017, Afrikaans as a means of instruction will be phased out, however, the language will be kept as a language of scholarship.

AreWeSafe symposium launched
The AreWeSafe gender and sexuality symposium was launched on August 25 and was held on August 26 & 27. The symposium was focused on the issues facing victims of sexual and gender-based violence. The aim was to educate students and staff on what to do should they witness, or fall victim to, one of these crimes.

SRC member posts racist rant on Facebook
On August 28 Luvuyo Menziwa, a member of UP’s SRC, posted a status on Facebook in which he proclaimed his hatred for white people. In his post, Menziwa made threats of violence against white people. On August 29, Menziwa was suspended from the SRC after he was also found guilty of three counts of misconduct against the SRC code of conduct. The story made national news and soon after the incident, Menziwa apologised for his comments in an interview with SABC 2. He said it was an emotional response to an alleged racial incident at Pretoria Girls High School and that he regretted the comments due to the implications that they had.

Tuks24 walk free
On October 7 the charges against the 24 students who were arrested during the Afrikaans Must Fall protests were dropped after the case was postponed tediously on seven occasions beforehand.

Fees Must Fall 2016
On September 19, Minister of Higher Education and Training Blade Nzimande announced that universities would have the power to set their own tuition fee increases with a cap of 8%. This sparked outrage among students around the country. Soon after the announcement was made, students disrupted classes at UP. Several students including some members of the EFFSC_UP were suspended.

As the disruption of academic activities continued, UP moved the October recess forward from October 10 to September 26 in an effort to combat protests.

Protests this year have been tainted with an increase in violence. Since last year, most of the protests at UP had been largely peaceful and non-violent, with the exception of Afrikaans Must Fall. This year UP has seen a guard hut set alight, a petrol bomb thrown at a residence and property damaged. However, it must be noted that in comparison with other universities such as Wits and UKZN, UP’s Fees Must Fall protests have been relatively subdued.
Three student leaders were arrested during the protests namely, EFFSC national spokesperson Naledi Chirwa, EFFSC_UP chairperson Amla Monageng and former SRC president and EFFSC_UP member Mosibudi “Rassie” Rasethaba. Monageng and Rasethaba remained in police custody while awaiting their bail hearings while Chirwa was granted bail. Both Rasethaba and Monageng were eventually granted bail.

Despite several efforts, the resumption of academic activities became almost impossible and to date the university has resorted to strict access control as well as online learning. Students and staff are only allowed on campus through two entrances. Before gaining access to the campus, one’s name and student number must be sent into the dean of the respective faculty. Once this is done, the name is put on an electronic list. At the turnstiles, student cards are swiped and if the student has clearance for the day, they will be allowed onto campus. If they do not, they will be asked to leave the property.

Since the commencement of examinations on November 14, there has been little protest activity.

2016 has been an action packed year for the University of Pretoria. These are just a few of the main events that occurred this year. Many of these events will become a part of the university’s history as they’ve shaped and changed the way in which all of UP’s stakeholders interact with one another and with the institution. It’s been a historical year for our country and for UP. It’s been a year that no one at Tuks will ever be able to forget.

Written by: Chad Johnston