NINA VAN WYK
On March 17 1909, Dr Reinik, UP’s management representative at the time, called a general meeting for UP students (In that year there were only 66 students enrolled at UP). In that meeting, Dr Reinik stated that, “… the senate desired the students to elect a certain number of students to represent them and act as an intermediary body between the senate and the council.” It was decided that the council would consist of eight students – three women and five men.
The composition of thE council changed many times over the years as the university evolved.
In 1930, first year students were allowed to join the SRC for the first time. They were given two seats, one to be filled by a male and one by a female. The rest of the SRC included three juniors (two males), seven seniors (four males), one student from Onderstepoort and two from Normaalkolle.
In 1942 the composition of the council changed. The first years were removed from the SRC because the rest of the SRC said that they did not know enough about student life to make informed decisions.
The emergence of the SRC as a political body began in the 1980s when politics became prominent on campus. Potential members of the SRC were allowed to include political affiliations in their campaigns in 1990. Some students showed their political choice by inviting former president FW de Klerk to come and speak to the students. Many students were against the government at the time and protested his speech. The SDS (Studente vir a Demokratiese Samelewing) invited former president Nelson Mandela to speak to the students a year later. His speech was cut short by student protests.
Politics on campus became more prominent as South Africa neared democracy and began having more of an influence on student governance. Political affiliations became so extreme among SRC members that by the early 2000s it all but fell apart because of in-fighting and conflicting political loyalties. In 2007 the SRC underwent yet another change, divorcing campus politics and the SRC. According to the UP management at the time, political affiliations had no place within the SRC which was never meant to be a political structure. Since its inception in 1909 the council was meant to be way for students to communicate with the university’s management.
In 2007 Mr Chilu Chani became chairperson of the SRC. Chani was the first non-white person to be elected as chairperson in 97 years. The following year, Miss Yolande van der Westhuizen was elected as chairperson, she was only the third female to fill the position.
In 2006 the SRC was reconstructed again. The council of the University of Pretoria approved a new constitution for student governance. The decision to do this was made after general consultations with students and other stakeholders about the revision of the student governance system. The new system has been in operation since 2007. According to the council, the new constitution “offers a constituency-based student representation and the participation of leaders elected in their individual capacity based on their leadership capabilities and track record rather than the ideologies of an externally-funded party.” The aim of the system is to ensure proper representation of UP student interests and an agenda that addresses real student issues, while at the same time eliminating the inherent divisiveness of a party-driven system.
In 2009 the new system experienced difficulties relating to problems with the ballot papers in a limited number of constituencies. Complaints were also received regarding the conduct of candidates contesting the election.
In 2010 the elections went more fluently, but only time will tell whether or not the new system will continue to work