By: Neo Mkwane
As a means of setting the record straight, I wish to reply on behalf of DASO-UCT to Simbarashe Nyatsanza’s opinion piece on Vernac News “DASO is there to frustrate poor blacks” (25 October 2017, Vernac News)
As DASO-UCT we wish to state on the onset that we believe that the struggles that students face at UCT are legitimate and require resolution through considered, practical policy proposals and by way of constructive engagement.
We further believe that given the serious issues which so many students face, the right to peaceful and lawful protest must be allowed and protected. However, we believe that this this right cannot infringe on the rights of other students, or be exercised in a way that is in contravention of the law and the Constitution.
We believe that students who want to peacefully protest within the bounds of the law must be allowed to do so without intimidation or unlawful arrest. Similarly, students who choose to continue learning, writing exams, attending tutorials and other academic activities must also be allowed to do so without intimidation; being subjected to violence and threats thereof; and assaulted with fire extinguishers and water hoses as we have seen this week.
The rights of all students must be respected. No student can use violence, threats, assault, to force their view on other students. It is of serious concern that protestors at UCT this week have continued to let off fire extinguishers as a method of intimidating students, a dangerous act of assault which saw a staff member lose his life at Wits last year.
No student has the right to intimidate or use violence against another. As DASO UCT we will always stand firmly against this, regardless of where it comes from. UCT must be a space of open contestation of ideas through debate, not through forceful co-option of thought through violence and intimidation.
It is for the manner mentioned above of intimidation, violence and threats thereof in which the “shut-down” attempt commandeered by the outgoing interim SRC that DASO-UCT has condemned it.
We also noted with great concern at the “mass meeting” in Jameson Hall on the 24th of October 2017, the outgoing interim SRC’s eagerness to initiate protest action and a shutdown without first having exhausted all available avenues at their disposal. We believe that extensive engagement with management is a principle that must be applied before engaging in any protest action.
None of this appeared to have happened before the attempted shutdown. With the interim SRC’s legacy-less tenure coming to a bitter end, it is no surprise that they are jumping from pillar to post in a last ditch attempt to salvage some credibility and hold on to power.
The outgoing SRC President announced that UCT management had served them with a proposal to increase fees by a figure in the region between eight and ten percent. In rejection of the proposed fee increments, the interim SRC was quick to seek recourse by way of shutdown, without thorough consultation with the student body as a whole. An impromptu “mass meeting” is not an appropriate manner to seek student input on a matter as serious as a shutdown. Moreover, not when a shutdown has been decided and is being forced upon students.
The right course of action would have been firstly to seek a proper mandate from students through proper consultation with the student body as a whole. Secondly, all internal measures, including extensive engagement with management would have been apt. As well as consulting with other South African universities for mass action to push the release of the National Fees Commission Report currently withheld by President Jacob Zuma.
As DASO-UCT we believe that the students struggle is a collective one and needs the support of all students, staff, management and other stakeholders. We believe that in working together, we could achieve greater and desired objectives. The manner in which the SRC has sought to divide the campus makes this unworkable.
In addressing questions raised by Simbarashe, I would like to emphasize that DASO-UCT believes that the national funding crisis of universities can be averted provided that government prioritizes its resources in the sector.
DASO believes that a safety net is required for poor and missing middle students. The most vulnerable in our communities will be affected adversely by fee increments. Tertiary institution state funding has decreased, which makes fee increment discussions a necessity to the survival of the institutions. DASO feels that it is important for government to fund institutions adequately, taking into account the safety net which is required for poor and missing middle students.
DASO rejects fee increments which are discussed and implemented for the poor and missing middle students until such a time the fees report has been made public, reviewed and the State has agreed to supplement University budgets to help them pay for necessary fee increases and implement a viable solution to solve the student and funding crisis. We believe that both the state and tertiary institutions are required to show commitment to building the knowledge base within South Africa which allows access to jobs.
The DASO has proposed a funding model to the fees commission which creates a safety net for the poor & missing middle students. We call on government to adopt this model:
1. 100% of the full cost of study for students whose families earn between R0.00 & R200,000 per year
2. 66% of the full cost of study for students whose families earn between R200,000 & R350,000 per year
3. 33% of the full cost of study for students whose families earn between R350,000 & R500,000 per year
DASO-UCT detractors have often spewed misleading rhetoric to students in countless failed attempts to character assassinate us by leading students to believe in the delusion that DASO-UCT doesn’t care about the plight of black or poor students. We reject that narrative with the desperate contempt that it deserves.
As DASO-UCT, we are the only student political organization which is currently running a yearlong fundraising campaign titled “Help Our Fellow Students Out” (HOFSO). The proceeds of this fundraising initiative will contribute towards students at risk of financial exclusion.
Perhaps more concerning, is that those who are currently trying to tarnish the image of DASO-UCT have nothing to show for the year but baseless rhetoric. As DASO-UCT, our concern and commitment to the plight of the poor and marginalised was appreciated and acknowledged by our recent victory in the SRC election.
The overwhelming ‘silent majority’ of students who saw DASO-UCT working week in and week out saw fit that we lead in the SRC in the incoming 2017/2018 term. This silent majority of students are made up of students of all races, religion, class, gender and sexual orientation. The fact that students formations such as EFF, PASMA and SASCO continue to ignore the silent and ridicule the majority is why students will continue to reject their leadership.
This majority constitutes a diverse group of fellow students who want their discourse to be at the centre of cultivating an all-inclusive and prosperous UCT and as DASO-UCT we will fight to maintain that discourse.