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Statement from progressive academics at the University of Pretoria

A group of progressive academics at the University of Pretoria (UP) have released a statement addressing various aspects of the #FeesMustFall protests taking place on its campuses.

We as progressive staff at the University of Pretoria are committed to the resumption of academic activities and the successful completion of the 2016 academic year. We also believe that the fees impasse at UP is characterised by peculiar political challenges that require context specific solutions. The extent of violence and destruction of property at UP is distinct from what we have observed in other protests across the country. Our students have expressed willingness to engage on systemic issues related to the current crisis in higher education. Some of these issues relate to specific institutional challenges at the University of Pretoria. In engagements some of us have had with students from various groups,it is clear that the UP movement is led by students from the university; there are no external political actors driving the protests. This explains the willingness of the student leadership to engage constructively with management and staff.

As progressive UP staff we are opposed to the shutting down of lectures and access to the university for undergraduate students. We are concerned by the proposed e-learning initiative because it was introduced in an undemocratic way and it contravenes the principles of equal and fair access in the higher education system as enshrined in the White Paper for Post-School Education and Training. Students that do not have direct access to computers and the Internet will be disadvantaged. UP is a contact university and human engagement is one of the core pillars of the institution’s teaching ethos.

Instead of engagement, the university has rather opted for a highly militarised solution to the impasse. This includes deployment of SAPS public order officers, and private security companies to the university’s various campuses. This hyper militarisation is not conducive for teaching, learning, research and other university activities. We demand the immediate demilitarisation and de-securitisation of campus. This would include at least the withdrawal of police and private security from campus and the ceasing of monitoring of student and staff communication on social media. We urge management to investigate urgently the numerous allegations of violence, and in particular sexual violence and harassment, that have been levelled at private security personnel (“bouncers”).

In light of the above,
1. We unequivocally support a call for progressive realisation of free, de-colonial and de-commodified tertiary education.While we realise that free education cannot be achieved immediately, we urge management to put forward a plan of action and specific time-frames for a dialogue on achieving a free education together with the university community.

2. We are committed to saving the academic year and for the academic programme to resume and do not support calls for an indefinite shutdown or the withholding of teaching. We believe that the only way in which to achieve resumption of the academic programme is through a process of unqualified engagement based on the specific institutional context.

3. We note and support the repeatedly expressed commitment of the UP student movement to non-violence and peaceful protest. As the progressive UP staff, we are open to engagement on possible solutions to the current impasse, including the lifting of student suspensions to create an environment conducive to negotiations.

4. We object to management’s failure to properly communicate and implement Senate’s decisions of 6 October in support of free education and engagement through a mass meeting. We see this as yet another example of the failure of management to consult with academics in a substantive manner on issues of importance.

The undersigned support this statement in their personal capacities and do not purport to represent the views of the university or any particular part thereof.

Danie Brand, Khwezi Mabasa, Sithembile Mbete, Mzikazi Noholoza, Hlengiwe Sehlapelo, Yolanda Nongauza, Karin van Marle, Josias Tembo, Stephan de Beer, Isolde de Villiers, Helen Inglis, Nkateko Ndala-Magoro, Corinne Sandwith, Rebecca Fasselt, Maria Prozesky, Silindiwe Sibanda, Neo Pule, Nishola Rawatlal, Alphonso Groenewald, Juanita Abdool, Glenn Holtzman, Alidah Kekana, Malehoko Tshoaedi, Nisa Paleker, Yolanda Nongauza, Phina Sokho, Maria Ramaahlo, Dikeledi Moche, Matete Madiba, Ben van der Merwe, Christi van Westhuizen, Carusta van der Merwe, Nedine Moonsamy, Wayne Renkin

Featured image by Lebo Lebese

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