The 1st Quarter Student Forum was initially scheduled to take place on Wednesday 18 March at 17:30, at the Sanlam auditorium. A judgment hearing issued on 17 March before the Chief Justice of the Constitutional Tribunal, Nicholas Herd, cited the circumstances imposed by the COVID-19 National Health Emergency as the impetus for ruling a postponement of the 1st Quarter Student Forum. As interim measures, the Student Representative Council (SRC) was directed by the Constitutional Tribunal to publish the SRC 1st Quarter Student Report and responses to the questions that were received by the SRC 48 hours prior to the initial date of the 1st Quarter Student Forum, by Friday, 20 March. A link was published on Tuesday 7 April on the SRC’s twitter feed that directed students to the 1st Quarter Student Forum Report and responses to the questions received.
Due to the closure of campus that arose following the national address on 15 March, members of the student body who were unable to timeously pose questions to the SRC 48 hours prior to the forum, are encouraged to submit potential questions to the SRC deputy secretary via firstname.lastname@example.org. These questions will then be answered in the 1st quarter student forum held upon resumption of campus. The SRC Deputy Secretary, Lerato Ndlovu, explains that “if it happens that this lockdown is extended, another question and answer document will be released on the website responding to those questions”. A date to hold the 1st Quarter Student Forum is to be announced at a later stage where holding such a gathering lies in compliance with measures imposed by the national lockdown.
PDBY was allowed to pose questions to the SRC in its capacity as the official student media platform of the University of Pretoria (UP) regarding the SRC’s plan of action (POA) for 2020 and its 1st Quarter Student Forum report. The following article details the current status of initiatives mentioned by the SRC in their POA, as well as responses to miscellaneous queries posed by PDBY to several SRC portfolios.
Office of the Presidency
Athletic Student Hunger Campaign:
In response to the drop in performances of athletes who do not receive adequate food, the office of the presidency formulated an initiative called Athletic Student Hunger Campaign. PDBY requested the SRC president, David Kabwa to comment on the current status of talks between the SRC and the Almal Foundation. Kabwa states that “the initial meeting was moved back repeatedly” and that “a follow-up meeting was requested for the 18th of March but was subsequently postponed again in light of the pandemic”. Kabwa ascertains that he will make follow-ups to this initiative once campus activities resume.
Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with Respublica:
In the 1st Quarter Student Forum Report, the president’s portfolio refers to the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with Respublica for the Urban Nest and Eastwoods Accommodations. According to the report, “this MOU stipulated that students sent by the SRC are to receive Checkers Vouchers and pay no deposit to move in”. It was queried as to whether students received the vouchers as stipulated in the report. Kabwa ascertains that 130 students were placed by the SRC and that the distribution was to begin in mid-March. He mentions that “currently no distributions have begun”.
Misinterpretation of NSFAS accommodation allowance criteria:
Kabwa cited in his report of instances where the NSFAS accommodation allowance criteria had been misinterpreted. Kabwa elaborated that “the miscommunications began when the Department of Higher Education And Training (DHET) had changed their guidelines for 2020.” There was an indication of unaccredited accommodations being no longer funded via NSFAS, however, the director general penned a letter that NSFAS would issue payouts if a University could verify the accommodation. Kabwa explains that this meant that accommodations “that cannot meet accreditation criteria opt for the verification process”.
Furthermore, Kabwa clarified that “the documents submitted for accreditation and verification are different. Which affects students applying for allowances”. This was where the mentioned misinterpretation had occurred.
Under the office of the president’s report, a joint collaboration between the Deputy President, Deputy Secretary, both Residence Officers, and the Office of Student Culture has been formed to work on accommodation accreditation issues and verification processes. This year, TMM Loftus was reaccredited and a verification process had been introduced. More information on the verification process can be found on https://www.up.ac.za/news/post_2868812-notice-to-students-regarding-nsfas-private-accommodation-2020-updated.
The office of the president organised to take students to observe two events, namely the State of the Province Debate and Gauteng Budget Speech which were held on 27 February and 5 March respectively. Students were provided an opportunity to engage with a real world setup and had the opportunity to engage with two of the youngest members of the provincial Legislature.
Office of the Deputy President
Making an audio version of the CSG (#Listen2YourRights):
Under the office of the deputy president, an initiative called #Listen2YourRights has been expressed. In conjunction with the Constitutional Tribunal, this initiative is meant to have the CSG available as an audio version recorded in 3-5 sessions every month. PDBY questioned the Deputy President, Mpho Mehlomakulu on the current status of the initiative. Mehlomakulu responded by stating that “it has been put on a hold for not because of COVID 19 but communication between myself and the Chief Justice will begin soon”.
A thorough reporting system to maintain SRC accountability:
The SRC deputy president has undertaken the process to ensure that SRC members accomplish everything they have set out to do and assess progress of their POA’s via a reporting system. In elaborating on what this reporting system will entail, Mehlomakulu mentions that he will be meeting “with three SRC members daily over two weeks and write a report on the progress of the different POA’s according to the time frame set by members”. He also stated that a report will be compiled using this information and this report will be made available for media entities and DSA accountable structures.
The SRC Food Drive Challenge and Monthly Sanitary Pad Distribution of 500 pads and food packs:
As mentioned in the POA, the office of the deputy president is tasked with the SRC Food Drive Challenge and a monthly sanitary pad distribution that expressed “challenging the SRC of 2020 to raise 500 cans or 500 sanitary pads every month”. Since the initiative was scheduled to start in February, Mehlomakulu was asked whether the goal was achieved for February and March. Mehlomakulu ascertained that “[his] office has set a goal to bring in at least 100 pads and 100 food parcels. This project from [his] office would’ve commenced in the second quarter meeting with different stakeholders and student societies. For now we [the SRC DP task team] are recalibrating how we will go about it during the lockdown”. A discrepancy was unveiled in the number of 100 pads and food parcels that the deputy president mentions, contrary to the 500 pads and food parcels mentioned in the deputy president’s POA.
The Creation of a SRC Non-governmental organization (NGO):
Furthermore, the office of the deputy president was tasked with the creation of an SRC NGO in collaboration with the DSA and UP management scheduled to start in March. PDBY queried Mehlomakulu on the current status of the SRC NGO. He mentions that “At this stage I cannot share anything because I have not met”.
Status of the Anti-suicide campaign:
As part of the Anti-Suicide Campaign known as the #Bophelo (Life)_Initiative, the office of the deputy president mentions in his POA that motivational note handouts, SMSs (scheduled to start in March), and support groups in all residences and accredited accommodation would be established. PDBY queried the current status of this initiative as to whether SMSs had been sent out for the month of March. Mehlomakulu states that “this is a very big plan and the plan has to go through a lot of legalities with the assistance of the Director as our accountable structure.”Revision of Policies under the Office of the Deputy President
Revision of Policies under the Office of the Deputy President
Reviewing of Library Operational hours:
The Deputy President’s 1st Quarter Student Forum report indicates that a form of inquiry was sent out to find out how many students were struggling with access to a computer. PDBY questioned Mehlomakulu on what these findings were and what the current status of the reviewing process is. Mehlomakulu explained that the SRC is still in the stages of finalizing the proposal but “obviously because of lockdown things have slowed down but we are working hard at ensuring that [they] see this through before the end of the year.”
Reviewing of clinic operational hours:
Another policy revision in the deputy’s POA refers to the reviewing of clinical operational hours, scheduled to start in March, where the deputy president would advocate for a 24 hours service. Furthermore, in relation to this policy revision, the POA mentions that health sciences students who are near the completion of their degree would be enabled to work at the clinic after talks with the Health Sciences Faculty’s Executive Committee. In commenting on the current status of this policy revision, Mehlomakulu states that this has not been started yet “because of the many things that came up but one thing that is important is to know that we are focusing on one thing at a time to ensure that the needs of the students are met.”
The SRC Deputy President Task Force (composed of four members) is responsible for mobilising the above mentioned revisions of policies. In response to being asked who the four members of the Task Force are, Mehlomakulu states that “the members have asked that I keep them as unknown for their own privacy purposes but they are all students from different faculties”.
Office of the Treasury
The Financial Budget not being released before the 1st Student Forum:
As stipulated in section 43(2)(a) of the CSG, quarterly reports of the SRC need to made available to the student body two weeks prior to the forum. As of the date of publication of the article, the financial budget report was not made available to the student body. Upon querying the absence of the report with SRC treasurer, Shaheen Deonarain, there was acknowledgment of issues with the budget that was given to Deonarain before Student Forum. Deonarain ascertains that “the budget will be released on the UP portal before the 1st Student Forum is held.” In elaborating on the issues, Deonarain cites delays from the accounting department in giving club fund allocations. Deonarain mentions that he originally budgeted for all 19 SRC members in the financial report however, this was scrapped by Toonbank and was told not to budget for ex-officio members. Deonarain mentions being asked to rework the ex-officio members’ budgets back in by the DSA.
An online platform to have financial reports readily accessible to students:
In an effort of transparency, it is mentioned under the Office of the Treasury’s POA that a tab on the student portal page would be devised to have all financial reports accessible by the student body. Deonarain ascertains that it was decided to keep this tab on the UP website to enable non-registered students to view the reports. In commenting on the correct status of this initiative, Deonarain says that “there is a minor tweak for now that needs to be discussed with Tuks Education Innovation as well as the SRC Media Communications officer”.
The status of student and staff pledges for the SRC study aid:
Under the Office of the Treasury’s POA, Deonarain mentions the formulation of pledges “that will challenge staff members, as well as willing students to pledge their salaries to students’ needs”. Deonarain mentions that the SRC “has not implemented, yet, neither abandoned” the initiative, and confirms re-visitation of the initiative once campus activities resume. In commenting on the potentiality of staff members, and SRC members to pledge their salaries once campus resumes, Deonarain ascertains that “if campus begins and staff members are paid their full salaries which I assume they would be paid since they are in recess then we can run our campaign to ask staff to donate”. Deonarain cites potential lockdown extensions, and lack of full salary payment as potential motivation to not run the pledge initiatives immediately, but focus on it in later months when activities return to normal. Deonarain indicates that the pledges mentioned in the POA also referred to interdepartmental budgets, as it would make the initiative “more successful, not to only target salaries but rather than have unnecessarily expensive teambuilding excursions or workshops we use the saved money for the SRC study aid”. It was confirmed by Deonarain that that all SRC members gave away 20% of their budgets allocated to their portfolio, and that talks are under way with the DSA about further cuts to the budget that will be revisited once campus reopens.
Companies approached with fundraising proposals:
In elaborating on what companies the office of the treasury, and office of study finances have approached with fundraising proposals for the study finance initiatives, Deonarain ascertains that “a few members approached companies [with] regard to attaining grocery deals, which will now have to be revisited because these companies would be suffering due to the corona pandemic”.
Source of the R210 000 that the SRC raised for the Study Aid Fund:
The SRC study finance office mentions in the SRC’s response to a written question that, “the office has used R200 000 for the SRC Study Aid Fund. And a further R10 000 for study material assistance”. PDBY asked Deonarian about the source of the money in the SRC study aid fund, and he confirmed that there was not in the study aid at the beginning of the year. Deonarain remarks that he cannot disclose the source of the money at this given time, citing the potentiality of jeopardising the process. He has confirmed that further details regarding the source will be mentioned to the student body once campus activities resume. He mentions that “the DSA told [the SRC] that [the SRC] had to pay off last year’s SRC pledges with the money the 2020 SRC came up with”.
Office of the Secretary
Clarification on the purpose of the Law Reform Committee (created and met on 20 November 2019):
Under the Office of the Secretary’s POA, there is reference to the formation of a Law Reform Committee that was created in conjunction with the Chief Justice of the Constitutional Tribunal. It is mentioned in the POA that the committee was constituted “for the purpose of the discussion, and drafting of provisional constitutional amendments”. PDBY asked the SRC secretary, Ryan Haines, and the Chief Justice, Nicholas Herd, about the impetus for the formation of such a committee, whether the CSG had room for the formation of such a council, and how the purpose of such a council differed from the constitutional review that takes place at UP every four years.
Herd ascertains that the committee was conceived “following the drawn-out and unmanageable CSG amendment process of 2019”. He mentions that the aim of the committee was to streamline the process of discussing potential amendments to the CSG in a more manageable way, in front of a smaller group of people before having them proposed in front of the full SRC-Constitutional Tribunal joint meeting.
Herd states that according to his knowledge, the invitation to serve on the Law Reform Committee was extended to all SRC members. Herd confirmed that the SRC members who serve on the Law Reform Committee are those “who have a background in law, have a particular interest in the amendments or theamendment process, or who occupy an office that requires their involvement, such as the SRC President, Deputy President, and SRC Secretary”.
Furthermore, Herd explains that “the SRC and Constitutional Tribunal delegated their joint amendment power informally and in a limited way” to the Law Reform Committee to allow its members exclusively to conduct discussions, and refinements to proposals received to amend the CSG, and bills that were brought up for discussion.
Herd clarifies that the law reform council is distinct from the Review committee that partakes in the constitutional review, as the Review committee is formulated as stipulated in section 52 of the CSG. It was confirmed by the Chief Justice that the CSG does not have provisions for the creation of such a committee, and ascertains that the Law Reform Committee was not a formal committee. The first meeting of the committee was held on 20 November 2019. On 22 January 2020, the student body was issued a public invitation to participate in the constitutional amendment process of 2020.
Clarification on the content of a proposed Bill:
The Office of the Secretary’s report refers to the drafting of “a comprehensive bill to amend the composition of the SRC” and mentions that “this bill was considered during consultation with the Constitutional Tribunal but was not passed”. It was enquired as to what this bill entailed, and on what basis it was not passed. Haines explains that the bill comprised of two main proposals, namely, “(1) severing the ‘Day Student’ part, from the current Day Student & External Campus Affairs elective portfolio, and (2) establishing a Day House/ Day Student ex-officio portfolio with a constituent Day House sub-council which is similar in nature to the current Residence ex-officio portfolio”. The motivation to not pass the bill was confirmed by Haines as being due to “impracticality, and fairness i.e. it would be unfair to limit the representation of all day students to the chairpersons of day houses”. The Chief Justice declined to comment on the content of the bill, citing that the decision to reveal contents of the bill “falls within the purview of […], the SRC”.
Absence of SRC meeting minutes for 2020 on the SRC Website:
PDBY also asked Haines about the absence of the meeting minute documents on the SRC website. Haines mentions that he and SRC Marketing, Media & Communication Officer, Gerald Mokwena, have not yet accessed the website to upload the documents. Haines mentions that the several statements released on the SRC’s social media platforms are “pursuant to the minutes of the ordinary SRC meetings”.
Office of Facilities, Safety & Security
Muggings in Hatfield:
The Muggings in Hatfield initiative under The Facilities, Safety & Security office, refers to a statement that was released which highlighted key findings regarding hot spots for muggings. The Facilities, Safety & Security officer, Bianca Robinson, supplied PDBY with a copy of the statement. Four main hotspots were identified, namely: Prospect Street, Main Gate (Lynwood Road), South Street, and Lunnon Road. The statement confirmed that The University of Pretoria, in conjunction with Hatfield CID have placed security guards in these hotspots. Robinson confirmed that she and The SRC President, David Kabwa, met Mr. Johan Boonzaaier (Director of the Department of Security Services), and presented him with the findings.
Robinson further ascertained that she attended a CID board meeting, and refers to a discrepancy in figures between the SAPS and CID, saying that “one thing that was highlighted that was a cause for concern was that the SAPS had different statistics to what CID and the metro police had”. She mentions that “to the SAPS it seemed like there was not a high number of muggings, but to the CID, Metro police, and the SRC, we know that there was an influx of muggings over the course of the quarter”.
Furthermore, to create a safer network amongst students, several community forum watch groups were created by students. Robinson also mentions that a Hatfield CID Facebook watch group was created, and that the link to which was released on 8 April: https://www.facebook.com/hatfieldcid/.
Status of the Green Route app:
PDBY queried the current status of the Green Route app mentioned in Robinson’s POA that was an initiative originally devised by the outgoing officer, Jacobus Cordier. “We haven’t necessarily had time to connect and have a proper handover of that sort”. She mentions that after this they will look to going forward with it.
Revamping of the Study Centre:
The revamping of the Study Centre in Robinson’s POA refers to the study center’s toilet facilities, the fixing of broken plug points, and the adjustment of air-conditioning. In commenting on the current status of this initiative, Robinson mentions that “what [the SRC] thought might take preference over that is to find computer labs that will have extended lab hours”. Robinson mentions that after this, they will propose a revamping.
Expanding the number of female toilets on campus:
According to the responses released by the Office of Facilities, Safety & Security, a question was posed as to why female toilets have not been expanded on campus given the vast demographic. The Office of Facilities, Safety & Security responded by stating that “the Office of Facilities has already included a request for the renovation of these toilets (excluding those already renovated i.e. piazza) in the office plan of action for 2020, which will be presented to management once contact activities commence again.”
Status of panic buttons on Hatfield Campus:
Robinson ascertains that this project is still in its research phase. After a thorough research write-up, she mentions that it will be presented to the relevant parties at UP.
Robinson clarifies that most of the ventures set out in her POA like the addition of drinking taps, panic buttons, and solar powered lights around dark walkways on campus, are in the research phase, and that she had to put her personal POA on hold to assist with student concerns that came to the SRC. The budget allocated for the Office of Facilities, Safety and Security was confirmed by the SRC treasurer, Shaheen Deonarain, as R15 050.
Other Notable mentions:
Under the office of the secretary’s report, Haines makes mention of 40 NSFAS students who have been wrongly rejected. After engagements with UP Executive Management and Student Finances, the students were allowed to register without paying for registration fees.
Students are also encouraged to look for a SRC newsletter that is mentioned under the Office of the Secretary’s report that is scheduled to be introduced in the second quarter
Assistance with Emergency Accommodation during the registration period for 2020:
During the course of the registration period at the beginning of the year, SRC members assisted students in need of emergency accommodation. Kabwa mentions in his report that “the action taken here was to assist students that would arrive in Pretoria with no prospects for accommodation or place to stay for the evening”. The report mentions that “roughly 51 students were accommodated during this time”. Students who were being accommodated by the SRC were provided with food provisions. However, Kabwa ascertains that “better cooking facilities will be required in future along with better crockery”.
The Deputy President’s report mentions that Elim church offered to accommodate students while the SRC helped to place them. Mehlomakulu states that the SRC referred 153 students to Tuks Res, and 109 of the students were placed within the period of help-desk. Furthermore, Mehlomakulu mentions that the SRC continued to help place students post help-desk, and ascertains that statistics regarding this will be given in the next forum.
The Office of The President worked in conjunction with the Office of Facilities to organize access for students that needed to enter campus during the month of February, to follow up on registration issues. As opposed to letters that were used in the past, that would only enable students to make their way onto campus via one of the main gates, an alternative modus operandi was adopted. Students had their student cards reactivated during this period.
Proposal and figures related to the study aid fund:
20% of the SRC operational costs were reallocated to the Study Aid Fund. The SRC’s operational cost amounted to R500 000, and R100 00 of the R500 000 was directed to the Study Aid Fund. This then left R400 000 that was divided into the 19 portfolios. According to the office of the Study finance report, “the proposal further stipulates that 50% of the project pool funds be redirected towards the Study Aid Fund, the 50% was also R100 000 of the R200 000 that would be allocated”. The Study Finance officer, Thulaganyo Kola, ascertains in the report that “the proposal of the mid-year SRC camp funds to be redirected to the Study Aid fund was rejected by the Director of Student Affairs, and no negotiation was done with regards to the Director’s rejection to reallocate these funds for students’ financial assistance”.
Constitutional amendments sent to Council:
Kabwa mentions that the submission date for the documents to be sent to council was 28 January 2020. Due to the registration issues that the SRC was resolving, the SRC and Constitutional Tribunal did not get to discuss the amendments. Therefore, Kabwa ascertains that the SRC has “been granted leave to submit the amendments to the Standing Committee of Council on 16 April for the June sitting”. He confirmed that currently no new amendments have been sent to the council.
Illustration: Giovanna Janos