Student leaders from COPE and the Progressive Youth Alliance (PYA) stormed out of the second multi-party conference, which was held on Saturday 27 February. The multi-party conference (MPC) was held to give various stakeholders an opportunity to reach consensus on the amendment of the constitution of the Student Representative Council (SRC). The final proposal was to be submitted to the university council for approval. However, after hours of deliberation, no consensus was reached.
The major issue of contention was that of excluding faculty representatives from the Student Assembly. Representatives of COPE, PASMA and the PYA said they did not think that the faculty houses are representative of all students and they are not held accountable because students are members simply by virtue of being registered in that faculty.
Former SRC chairperson and VF representative, Hector Beyers, said that as someone who had sat in university council meetings before, deliberation on the exclusion of faculties in the MPC was a “waste of time” because the council would never approve the exclusion. Vice-Principal, Prof. Chris de Beer supported Beyers’s view by reminding the MPC, “We are in an academic institution, not a political or a cultural institution.” Thus the exclusion of faculties, who focus on academic issues, cannot happen. He went on to say that the MPC should not be about excluding certain groups from student governance structures.
COPE and the PYA subsequently voiced their disapproval and left the meeting abruptly. COPE leader, Katlego Malatji, said, “Since no progress has been made, we will no longer participate in this meeting. We will consolidate issues in talks with our members.” He also accused the facilitator, Dr Wynoma Michaels, and her colleague of not facilitating adequately.
Dr Michaels said “student leaders should learn to reach a point of compromise when it is in the greater good” of everyone concerned. “When there is a place for such intense dialogue, it means that there is healthy democracy.” She said that she would rather there be intense dialoguing, than leaders marching and protesting in the street.
Chairperson of the Temporary Student Commitee (TSC), Marius Ellis, said he is “glad political parties came together to talk, even though the outcome was unexpected. The road ahead is going to be a long one.” Prof. de Beer reassured that “student governance is not in shambles”. He is confident that there will be a constitution very soon and the TSC will not serve longer than their stipulated term of six months.
It was voted that issues regarding the mandate and the function of the TSC be discussed at a later stage, and not in the MPC. Prof. de Beer went on to say that it is the “joint responsibility of management and the students to make student governance work.” A third MPC will be arranged to continue discussions on student governance structures. Until these issues are resolved, the University of Pretoria remains without a democratically elected student representative body.