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VUT student leaders won’t negotiate until management uplifts suspensions and expulsions

Expelled SRC President Troy Mathebula explained to the Daily Vox why Vaal University of Technology (VUT) students do not want to engage with management in the absence of their democratically elected leaders.

We wanted the management to sit with the SRC to discuss the internal issues raised by students and the national call of Fees Must Fall, but student leaders were suspended and expelled instead. The timing was wrong. Students are not willing to engage with management that unless they are represented.

The most important thing that led to where we are today is the question of the trust fund. This was part of solution we had to fund the education of poor students. We agreed that we should have access to the trust which was established three years ago but has not assisted any student to date.

We learnt that over R120 million has gone missing from the trust because many donors have been giving money to the fund. This led to many student leaders being suspended and expelled. We want them to tell us what happened to that R120 million. The Public Protector’s office is aware of what we are talking about. And if ever there is nothing to hide, they must come out and say it must be public and that the fund should be audited. We are told about the Fikile construction company and other security companies, one of which told us about the R100 million that they deposited into the trust fund. We asked the management about these funds and no one was able to respond to us. Every time we raise this issue we are received with negativity.

We are told that they have called a meeting with students but they excluded all the relevant people – the suspended leadership. Maybe we are the subject of the matter and that is why they don’t want us to attend that meeting. We agreed that whoever is going to go that meeting is not going to discuss anything. What they are going to discuss first is the upliftment of the suspensions and expulsions for all the relevant people to come and discuss the issues put forward by students.Who is management going to discuss the issue of a fee increment with if they have suspended all the student leaders? Students want their leaders to be brought back before we can have a discussion about when to resume classes.

On Friday, we will be on the streets and we want management to come. They must be ready to compromise. We are ready to compromise but it cannot be that the solution to every problem is to suspend students. Every time we raise issues, they find a way to suspend us. We don’t believe there is anyone who is capable of engaging on all the issues we have brought forward to management. It is only us, the student leaders, who are going to discuss issues.

Remember that VUT is 100% under the EFF Student Command. We hope that they deploy someone who is going to deal with these issues because this is an attack on the organisation, it is no longer about our academics. We told the national EFF so that they [are] aware of what is happening. Management must not make the mistake of discussing anything with anyone. Most of the students who have been suspended are members of the EFF Student Command. That raises the question about how the management is able to pinpoint those radical leaders out of all the people who come out to protest.

 

We have members who have not been suspended. We are going to appoint our own students who are going to go there. The meeting will actually be disbanded if they are going to discuss things other than uplifting the suspensions. Management mustn’t even try to discuss issues of resuming classes. There will be only one point on the agenda. The withdrawal of suspensions. Anything else must be discussed with the people who were democratically elected by students. Those people are us.

If this arrogant management had their buildings closed, what do you think was going to burn? The building of the management. The unfortunate part is that they are so arrogant that they don’t even care about the property of this institution. At the end of the day, they provoke the students and then they say students must take responsibility. Who must take responsibility when a student who stays in Venda is told to leave res by 12 o’ clock?

You have a Dean of Students who is a Deputy Vice Chancellor, a boss to himself. When he makes a decision he justifies himself. No one can question him. He is so powerful that he can command residence students to leave now and they have to do that. The police will start shooting at the students who don’t. It is not going to happen this time around. No one is going anywhere. If ever it means that we have to fight, then we will. We are paying for this residence. As long as there is no security risk or a court order then no one is going to kick us out.

We don’t have rubber bullets, we don’t have shields or guns. Matches and petrol bombs belong to those who are oppressed and when they are provoked, they are bound to respond. I’m not saying students must go and burn but I’m saying that everyone must take responsibility. Management must meet leaders when they are supposed to. The police must come and and protect both sides. At some point the police must tell management to speak to the students because they are becoming violent. They mustn’t just come here and start attacking us. We are not telling anyone to burn but management must know that when students are pushed to a corner they are going to respond.

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Management decided that they were going to do what they do best; victimise the students and make them look like they are wrong. When they evict students out of the blue, they want them to think that their leaders are not capable. Students are realising who the real enemy is this time around. The real enemy is those guys who are sitting there in management positions who don’t want to make decisions.

There are different steps to this. The first is to withdraw the suspensions and expulsions. That doesn’t mean that we have arrived where we are going. It only means that we will open for negotiations. We need a third neutral party to come and mediate. You have your reactionary management and you have us as student leaders who are very angry. These two cannot find a solution. There is always going to be a deadlock. We don’t want to talk to management, they are threatening our careers. We need a neutral party that will mediate before making a sober impartial decision to allow us to return.

I don’t know what is going to happen [on Friday] but students know that they have to show a high level of discipline. We must remember that we cannot play in their hands. Once we start destroying things we give them a chance to start suspending students and all these things that make them run away from what they are supposed to do. We hope that the university will take the decision to uplift all the suspensions and allow the process of negotiating to proceed.

All 19 students who were arrested have been released. We have lawyers who are ready to assist us in everything. NEHAWU came on board and they must go tell management that they are putting staff members at risk by not uplifting this suspension. That is all that they need to do. This is very simple. We are not going to stop. We are ready to go through with what is happening. The pain, the expulsions and the suspensions. We are happy that the students understand what is happening. They are supporting us each and every day.

Editors’ note: VUT spokesperson Mike Khuboni told The Daily Vox that he cannot comment on the allegations of corruption until evidence is submitted to the university. 

Featured image and reporting by Rumana Akoob

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