On 5 May, the First Quarter Student Forum was held in the Sanlam Auditorium by the SRC, and much like South Africa’s Parliamentary proceedings it was anything but smooth sailing.
The First Quarter Student Forum, which was initially supposed to be held on 7 April, was postponed. Due to this postponement an attendee questioned SRC President Thuto Mashile, by asking “What rule […] empowered her to postpone the initial sitting?”. According to the Deputy Secretary of the SRC, Fikile Sibanda, “[The SRC] issued the invite before [they] could secure the venue and it was an error [on their] side and for that [they] apologise”.
However, the SRC later outlined that this was not the only reason behind its postponement. Their quarterly report was released late (on 23 April) and if the forum had occurred on 7 April, then students would not have had two weeks to engage with their quarterly report – a period students are entitled to by the Constitution for Student Governance (CSG).
This quarterly report should detail “the SRC’s progress in implementing its action plan”. It must be noted that according to section 22 of the CSG, which outlines the responsibilities of the SRC, the SRC are required to develop this Plan of Action (POA), before the start of the 2022 academic year.
PDBY only received the SRC’s 2022 draft POA on 20 May and it is still not available to the student body, which calls into question the purpose of holding the student forum. The purpose of the student forum according to the Constitutional Tribunal and Chapter 5 of the CSG is to hold SRC members accountable which is done by comparing the SRC’s yearly plan or POA to the SRC’s quarterly report – a task made difficult as the SRC’s POA has not been released to the student body.
Proceedings of the forum
The Chief Justice of the Constitutional Tribunal, Tiara Joseph, preceded over the event to ensure that order is maintained, and members of the forum are recognised if they wish to speak. However, during the forum there were multiple interruptions.
One said interruption followed the allegation that an SRC Ex-Offico officer told students to “go f*ck themselves”. The SRC responded to this allegation in an interview with PDBY where SRC Secretary Tarik Lalla said that “[he] was sitting next to the member accused and that he did not say anything along those lines”.
The Chief Justice said that “[she does] concede that in certain instances that [provisions relating to gross misconduct amongst others] were contravened and within their capacity as the Tribunal they did their best to protect that”. DASO UP member Liam Jacobs also highlighted in an interview with PDBY that the Chief Justice “was more than capable of handling the proceedings but that the issue was the EFFSC UP […] as they show no regard for decorum”. Jacobs also highlighted that “the presiding officer could have adopted sterner measures to deal with the EFFSC UP”.
The EFFSC UP said however that “it is a blatant lie that the EFFSC UP disrupted student forum” and that “student issues could not be raised effectively because of the disruption from the SRC members.” However, the SRC maintains that student forum was not disrupted and that they will not mislead students by stating otherwise.
The SRC further stated in a document to PDBY that “due to the disruptive behaviour of certain individuals in the crowd” attendees felt unsafe due to “misogynistic and intimidating behaviour”. These actions, according to the SRC, are “being looked into”. Despite these issues, the forum did conclude.
The response to student forum
Following the student forum, the EFFSC UP released a statement on 6 May that said “[the first quarter student forum] made it vividly clear to students that the SRC is incapable and out of touch with the reality of students” and that “the only place [the SRC’s] abilities are seen is when they’re running around the university in golf carts”. The statement also reiterated the allegation that a SRC member, used vulgar language. PDBY reached out to the SRC for further comment on this allegation to which they responded with “This is completely untrue. At no point did […] any SRC Member shout any such profanity to anyone present in the sitting.”
The SRC however has since stated that “the forum was largely successful” and “encourages students who were unable to pose questions or rase points of concern to engage outside of the student forum platform”. According to the SRC, they are currently working on planning the Second Quarter Student Forum.
One can hope that by this time, the SRC will have released their POA to the student body, so that students can evaluate the SRC’s quarterly report against their plan for the year, to establish true accountability.
This is a developing story.
Access the SRC’s response to student forum here –> SRC Article
Access the Constitutional Tribunal’s response to student forum here –> Constitutional Tribunal – Student Forum Article .docx
You can access an interview following the student forum (with the SRC, Constitutional Tribunal, DASO UP and the EFFSC UP) below.