The third demand, which stated that no person who took part in the protest action at UP would be prosecuted by UP, was agreed upon, provided that students continued to behave peacefully.
The fourth demand added that provision should be made for all those who took part in protest action to catch up on academic activities missed due to the protest. Prof. de la Rey agreed to this, with the academic year being extended by one week.
On the demand that food services decrease their prices to be market competitive, Prof. de la Rey said that all food prices which were previously not market competitive would be decreased to adhere to this. Prof. de la Rey also welcomed UPrising’s intention to launch an investigation with the Competition Commission and the Public Protector to follow up on food prices at UP.
Prof. de la Rey further agreed that all financial decisions impacting students must be proposed to students no later than September of the previous year, and that students’ financial status should have no bearing on their ability to retain residence placement.
UPrising’s eighth demand stated that all students who met NSFAS criteria for financial aid should receive such aid. Prof. de la Rey addressed this point by referring to UP allocating an additional R20 million to help NSFAS students who needed financial assistance.
On the demand to remove application and residence fees, Prof. de la Rey stated that students in residences who are financially disadvantaged would not be excluded from such residences on the basis of their financial disadvantage. In response to the demand for no registration fees, Prof. de la Rey said that all working class students will be exempt from the fee. Prof. de la Rey further explained that “working class” will be determined according to a student’s family income. Furthermore, no interest will be charged on outstanding fees owed by students.
Prof. de la Rey also confirmed that, on the demand for a seat to be allocated to a student representative on the Standing Committee of the Council, an amendment of the Statute of the University of Pretoria will be considered by council in November this year.
Prof. de la Rey met UPrising’s final demand by ratifying the memorandum.
A group of lecturers showed their support for the protesting students since 21 October and even played a part mediating on Monday during the occupation of the CSC. “For myself, I was struck by not only the demand for very practical material change – for example fees, interest, food cost, transport, outsourcing – but also the insistence on accountability, transparency and democracy,” said Prof. Karin van Marle, head of the Department of Jurisprudence. “To my mind, the latter relates to what the university stands for, or should stand for,” added Prof. van Marle.
Prof. van Marle, who also acted as a mediator between the student protesters and UP management during the occupation period, said that “as academics and lecturers, we learnt an important lesson from students [this] past week: to fight for the idea of the university, in a sense to take back the university”. Prof. van Marle concluded by saying that students wanted Prof. de la Rey to listen, and that was what she did.
UPrising spokesperson Karabo Sekhukhuni stated that the occupation of the CSC was due to only 1 of a list of 13 demands originally handed to the university being met. “We occupied the CSC so that we can make sure the university listens and doesn’t go against us,” stated Sekhukhuni. Sekhukhuni further explained that the occupation was to allow for students to engage with Prof. de la Rey and to hold a public meeting so that no decisions were made behind closed doors. “The agreement [that was reached] was quite liberating [and] made us very happy, however it is on us as UPrising to keep management accountable to the agreement … and [we] will continue to engage with management on the promises that were made,” said Sekhukhuni. Sekhukhuni also added that the occupation of the CSC was peaceful, something Director of Security Services Colin Fouché was very pleased about. Fouché expressed his sincere gratitude and appreciation for their “high-morale and well-disciplined behaviour”, adding that no police action had been taken, no malicious property to damage occurred and that there were no medical emergencies over the four day period of protests.
In addition to the initial 13 demands, Prof. de la Rey addressed several further issues raised during Monday’s occupation of the CSC and agreed to the following:
- To set up a commission in collaboration with all stakeholders to consider the issue of outsourcing.
- To pay contractors and not penalise them for striking.
- To consult with Senate, the Council, the Department of Higher Education and Training and all other stakeholders in considering only one language of tuition, namely English. A written report will be provided on the matter before the end of the year.
- To provide transport to Sunnyside, provided that students propose a route.
- To revive agreements with the late Prof. Roelf Visser, the previous head of residence affairs, so that students are allocated affordable accommodation and not in Hatfield Studios.
- To allocate food for residence students during the exam period for students who have run out of meal funds.
- To intervene on behalf of UP students at The Fields.
- To develop a programme to listen to students.
In a response to Perdeby, Prof. de la Rey reiterated the university’s commitment to implementing all aspects agreed to. Prof. de la Rey added that “the very next morning [after the occupation of the CSC] I convened a meeting with the senior management team to communicate in person the contents of the agreement and the urgency of the implementation”. On Wednesday, an urgent special Senate meeting was held to communicate with the Senate and other staff unions. “Key structures in the university such as Student Enrolment and Services and TuksRes, are giving priority to implementation”, said Prof. de la Rey. Furthermore, Prof. de la Rey added that government has committed to increasing the allocation [of funding] for universities in 2016 and that this commitment from government, together with the commitment from the university “can make it work”.
In a statement released by UP academic staff, it was stressed that although the talks between students and UP management were not easy, “their willingness to see this painstaking engagement through to the end was fruitful”.
With UPrising’s demands being satisfactorily met, students cheered for Prof. de la Rey, with some referring to her as “comrade De la Rey”, while others screamed “De la Rey for president”.
Eventually the student protesters broke out into song, with Prof. de la Rey and Registrar Nick Grové joining in the celebratory song and dance. With this, the occupation of the CSC came to an end, and so too did the UPrising protests.
All academic activities continued as normal from Tuesday 27 October, with the university announcing that the semester had been extended by one week to compensate for lost time due to the protests. Exams are scheduled to begin on 16 November and will continue through until 7 December.
Photos: Marko Svicevic