As anticipated, the proceedings of the student forum that took place on 26 October resembled a striking similarity to a scene from a South African parliament proceeding. The main objective of the forum was to provide a platform where students could hold SRC members accountable. Attendees included students, current SRC members, faculty chairpersons, student committee executives, residence representatives, as well as student wings of political organizations, including DASO, ActionSA, SASCO, and EFFSC.
Questions were posed to the current members of the SRC covering topics such as the SRC’s position on the ongoing Israel-Palestine conflict, how the R1 million received from the Motsepe foundation was utilized, the number of students who lost NSFAS funding, the SRC’s actions to assist those students as well as the topping up issue forthcoming for TuksRes students. Many of these inquiries received evasive responses, with SRC members often struggling to provide direct answers. Furthermore, frequent interruptions and points of order were predominantly raised by EFFSC and SASCO members. Instances of verbal insults were consistently handled by Chief Justice Lesedi Ngubeni, who served as the mediator of the proceedings.
The actions of SASCO and EFFSC members led to the eventual walkout of TukRes and day house constituents. The walkout was triggered when the newly elected TukRes chairperson, Hlumelo Mjikeliso, attempted to raise a point of order but was informed by the Chief Justice that she was using the incorrect student forum rules. This led to a reaction from EFFSC and SASCO members who contended that TukRes had no relevance in the ongoing proceedings.
Renard Du Plessis, chairperson of Dregeana, stated on behalf of his day house, “It was a political fight between two parties; we couldn’t raise our questions.” He added, “From the SRC’s side, we never received any notice of questions we could submit; we were waiting for an opportunity to raise questions without notice that our students wanted us to ask.”
In a brief interview with PDBY regarding the decision to return, Du Plessis stated, “We, TukRes and day houses, had an inspiring speech that basically said we are not a blazer squad; we represent all of the student populace.” He continued, “So, we decided that we have to sit here; we’re doing this for our students, although there are political fights and chaos is erupting everywhere.” The inspiring speech he referred to was given by the current SRC residences officer, Vhutshilo Muambadzi, as well as the newly elected chair, Mjikeliso. The positive discussions about the purpose of the student forum did not end there. After the chaos of the forum, current SRC members, TukRes constituents, as well as the members of EFFSC and SASCO, engaged in a more peaceful discussion. Apologies were exchanged, and important conversations mainly about TukRes’ involvement in student issues took place.
During this intimate discussion, SASCO member and 2023/2024 SRC presidential candidate Okuhle Mpepo addressed Mjikeliso, saying, “The only time you [TukRes] want to engage with issues is when you have problems that need to be dealt with, but you do not use the platform that you were offered here to deal with those things.” Mpepo continued, “The history is that when TukRes does attend student forum, which is not something that is common, the general feeling is that you don’t even want to be here and don’t want to engage.” Mjikeliso welcomed the constructive criticism, and Mpepo added, “It’s easy to be like ‘We are TukRes, we don’t know about the political situations.’ But why are you not educating yourselves politically about the space that is going to affect your own constituency as a leader of students?”
Karabo Mogale, a current EFFSC member and presidential candidate, continued these sentiments, saying, “It would make matters very easy if you [TukRes] dealt with the issues you have, unlike all the students coming to us as the SRC. There are only 19 of us dealing with so many students.” She continued, “Culture is important, but then that is the reality; you only do activities for when students are happy; when students are going through problems, they come to us [SRC] and it’s a lot for us.” Mogale ended by stating, “Maybe you can reflect on how you can contribute more to student issues and be present and in touch with these issues and not just socials only.”
Mjikeliso responded by stating, “If the majority of the questions don’t include accommodation and I am not equipped on them, I cannot comment.” She continued, “I don’t disagree, I don’t denote, and I don’t ever want to undermine what you do; this is a beautiful platform, especially for students who are not in TukRes, because you don’t get the same communication we do.” Conversations continued around finding a common ground between the various structures, and the consensus reached was that they all share the common goal of helping students with issues such as defunding, financial support, as well as the provision of meals.
The coming year will be pivotal in proving this collaboration’s effectiveness. This post-forum conversation demonstrated that when politics and personal agendas are set aside, productive conversations and cooperation can occur, which may eventually benefit students. Hopefully, these structures will continue to engage constructively in the coming year.