MICHAEL BIHL and ARTHUR HORN
The University of Pretoria’s annual Student Assembly elections were postponed on Tuesday, September 8 after protest action threatened the safety of staff and students.
Members of the ANC Youth League (ANCYL); the Young Communist League (YCL); the South African Students Congress (SASCO); and the Pan African Student Movement of Azania (PASMA) took part in the protest, uniting under the banner of the “Student Front”.
The Student Front demanded that the structure of the SRC be changed to allow for political party representation. At the moment, the elections are based on constituencies within the university. The protesters marched around the campus, overturning election tables outside the Human Sciences Building (HSB) in the process.
A subsequent interim court interdict has been granted to the University to prevent “a repetition” of the events. The interdict further “requests that police enforce the respondents’ compliance with the provisions of the interdict”.
The protestors gathered in the Piazza, where Student Front representatives addressed the masses. One protester shouted, “I would rather be arrested than see the elections take place.”
University staff and security were subject to extreme intimidation in the Piazza, and on several occasions the crowd stormed the centre of the Piazza. Campus security formed a ring around the speakers to prevent any violent action from breaking out.
Campus security had to separate the protestors from Freedom Front Plus supporters who formed a human chain. Hector Beyers, SRC Chairperson and Charl Oberholzer, deputy chairperson, formed part of the chain.
The Dean of Students, Prof. McGlory Speckman, and acting Vice-Chancellor and Principal, Prof. Chris de Beer, were present to respond to the demands of the Student Front. YCL spokesperson Gugu Ndima said, “We shall not recognise the outcome of such apartheid-style SRC elections.”
Subsequently, the protesters moved to the front of the HSB. Campus security formed a barrier in front of the building, preventing students from entering or exiting this building or the UP Library. Classes were disrupted and heavily armed police moved onto the scene to contain the situation.
The protest ended with the handing over of a memorandum to Prof. de Beer. Further negotiations have been scheduled to discuss a peaceful resolution, under the auspices of the court interdict. In a statement on the UP website, Prof. de Beer said that, “The University considered the safety of staff and students as more important than the continuation of the election.”
According to Beyers, the election has been postponed indefinitely until the discussion between both political and non-political actors has been concluded. They will discuss the way forward with regards to the greater structure of the SRC.
AfriForum Youth’s national chairperson, Ernst Roets, called the actions of the protesters “totally unacceptable” and urged the university management to take disciplinary steps against the protesting students. Those affected by the interdict have until October 13 to show why the interdict should not be made a final order of court.