When the jacarandas start to bloom and you feel as if you have barely survived the first semester, you may pass by the Piazza in the centre of campus and notice students yelling into a mic about manifestos and why you should vote for them. You will probably wonder whether these people ever attend lectures, but this will also be a tell-tale sign that the Student Representative Council (SRC) elections are coming up.
As stated by UP’s Constitution for Student Governance (CSG), the SRC is the highest student governance structure at UP, which is annually elected by students based on a voting system. As votes are the determining factor for selection, election time is typically the most probable period in which strangers will approach you and spend ten minutes trying to win your vote. The CSG states that the council is by the students, for the students, and it exist to represent, serve, and assist students to achieve academic success.
Every year around the end of the first semester, there is an official announcement declaring the start the, usually chaotic, SRC nominations and elections. To officially begin running for the SRC, prospective candidates must receive 100 signatures from registered students and 200 signatures if they are running for the presidential portfolio. Once the nominations are processed, the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) releases a provisional candidates list for each portfolio.
Overall, the SRC has a maximum of 19 members, which include 12 elective portfolios and seven ex officio portfolios. The SRC elective portfolios consist of an executive committee and a non-executive committee, in which candidates may run for a maximum of two portfolios. The executive committee includes the president, deputy president, secretary, deputy secretary, and treasurer. The executive committee meets regularly, conducts the day-to-day management of the SRC and performs administrative and technical duties.
The non-executive elective portfolios of the SRC include the following: Facilities, Safety and Security; Media, Marketing and Communications; Study Finance; Postgraduate and International Student Affairs; Day Student and External Campus Affairs; Societies; and Transformation and Student Success. The ex officio portfolios include two Academic Affairs Sub-Council representatives, two Residence Sub-Council representatives, one RAG Committee representative, one Student Sport Committee representative and one Student Culture representative. To know more about the duties for each portfolio, consult the University of Pretoria CSG online.
Once there are official candidates for each portfolio and the announcement of the nominations takes place, campaigning begins. Through campaigning, candidates can address students and present their manifestos to gather votes for the upcoming election through prearranged forums. When campaign meetings take place, candidates are given the chance to present their manifestos and debate with each other, and students can pose questions to the candidates as well as engage with them regarding their manifestos.
The candidates for the SRC may run as independents or may be affiliated with a society or student governance structure, including political organisation affiliations. Some political organisations which students have previously run under include SASCO (South African Students Congress, an extension of the ANC), EFFSC (Economic Freedom Fighters Student Command), ActionSA Students, and DASO (Democratic Alliance Student Organisation). During campaigning, the candidates may put up posters on campus as well as promote themselves by wearing merchandise and engaging with students.
Once the campaigning period ends, elections take place. Each student is allowed to vote for one candidate per election ballot and may vote for a candidate in any or all the ballots for the elective portfolios. After the elections have ended, the IEC verifies and announces the results, making the outcome available to students for viewing. The candidate for each elective portfolio who receives the highest number of votes is then elected, and the chaos that is the SRC election period finally comes to an end.
What went wrong in 2023:
However, the 2023 SRC elections did not occur as expected. Thus, UP has formed a Temporary Student Committee (TSC) for the 2024 academic year following a series of events surrounding the 2023 SRC elections as well as racial tensions. On 26 September 2023, the Department of Education Innovations declared the elections “free and fair” but suspended results within 24 hours due to the pending outcome of disciplinary hearings.
The final election results differed drastically from the preliminary results the IEC initially released. On 9 September 2023, the preliminary results revealed that candidates running under the EFFSC banner took eight out of the 12 elective seats. However, in the official results, all eight of the EFFSC candidates were disqualified and would face disciplinary action for allegedly contravening the election rules. Thus, for these eight seats, all the candidates with the second most votes were declared as the elected SRC officials.
This led to protests by supporters of the EFFSC, causing an eruption of violence leading to condemnation from various groups including DASO and Afriforum Youth. The EFFSC, in turn, accused the university of undermining democracy.
On 9 October 2023, stickers reading “Blacks only” and “No whites allowed” appeared on campus entrances, sparking a debate. AfriForum Youth eventually claimed responsibility, citing a lack of UP’s action against alleged racial incidents involving EFF members during the SRC campaigning period. The university condemned the behaviour, while mentioning three racial incidents that had taken place in an email to students and staff.
In response to the racial tensions and protests, on 1 December 2023, the University issued a communication letter on the UP website. The letter was written by the Interim Vice- Chancellor and Principal, Prof. Themba Mosia, addressing the establishment of a Temporary Student Council (TSC). It stated that the committee comprises seven ex officio members who had been elected to the 2024 SRC and five additional members from the ranks of recognised student leaders, including a number of candidates who contested portfolios in the 2023 election period.
The inauguration of the TSC members took place on 15 January. Moving forward, the TSC will play a crucial role in guiding student governance during this transitional period, which will emphasise the importance of collaboration, understanding and a commitment to the well-being of the university and its students.