1,000 signatures reached
In the wake of the student protests at the University of Cape Town, working under the banner of Shackville over the 15th to 17th February, we saw the political conflict between the demonstrators and the university management over student housing and financial exclusions unravel in dramatic flares of politicised violence on behalf of both “sides”. The shack erected to signify the symbolic plight of exclusion and the depth of black pain was demolished by UCT private security who based their repressive acts on the supposedly vital traffic flow of a nonessential road cutting through Jameson stairs and with little regard for constitutionally established legal precedence around eviction processes. Following the physically violent and emotionally charged conflict which included the burning of various forms of private property, a handful of students have been charged through several waves of internal and external processes.
To this effect an overbroad interim interdict granted by acting Judge Williams in Chambers through the High court on the night of the 17th was made final on the 11th of May. Judge Allie from High Court then issued the final order against 5 (of the original 16 named respondents) University of Cape Town (UCT) student activists. As a result, they are not allowed on campus for an indefinite period of time except with expressed written consent of the ViceChancellor. These students are also expected to pay UCT’s costs, jointly and separately, including the costs of two legal counsel.
This order not only bars students from any UCT premises and property, but it also attempts to criminalise and silence protest action and activism by making use of the courts to force the campus student movements into a posture that is not experienced as disruptive to those in power.
There exists a violent irony in the tireless, expensive and expansive efforts of the University to use the courts while simultaneously using its lawyers to embroil students in internal disciplinary proceedings effectively building an impenetrable wall between them and the very gates of higher learning they sought to broaden. The court processes favour the resourced and the wealthy and nowhere is this more clear than the demoralising legal costs that face these students while they face an institution that appears ready to spare no cost to deal with them in the very climate whether they ask of their community greater fiscal responsibility due to austerity measures.
This approach that has effectively attempted to crush the aspirations, dreams and academic progress of a few student activists, some who were due to graduate, over the loss of mere property. Paintings cannot be worth more than the lives of black students and people, especially in the context of our grossly unequal society. It cannot be that in a society, and in a university, where transformative justice is liberally paid lip service that we allow unreflexive decontextualised processes to bar young black students from the very institutions they are working hard to change.
In light of the combined repressive approach of the external and internal disciplinary members and given the tacit complicity of the campus security, staff members and members of the Student Representative council including the president himself who were all present but did not act in a way as to caution or guard against what was unfolding, we therefore collectively call for an “established South African approach” to justice on this matter that addresses what took place in full context in an open and transparent manner with the university community and affected stakeholders.
Such an approach we would like to suggest should take place in the form of a Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Inquiry for the events of Shackville based on the following rationale:
Why is this important?
● The net impact of the internal and external judgements is devastating to the personal futures of black students from the RhodesMustFall movement and those who are in solidarity with them, and this impact on their lives is disproportion with the loss of a few items of private property.
● The basis of the expulsion, particularly through the interdict, is partly linked to the continued “threat” placed on the university by the presence of certain individuals. We provoke the question, if these students posed such a threat tothe campus and had negatively anarchic goals to “destroy the campus” and so on then why did we not see continued political violence after their studies had been interrupted? The lack of such sustained political violence supports the suggestion that it is not the objective of these students to “destroy the university”.
● Restorative Justice conducted in a manner that includes the university community creates the opportunity for dialogue in a context that by all accounts appears to be experiencing the stifling of debate and the experience of the limitations on freedom of expression.
● Pursuing restorative justice in this case potentially establishes a national precedence that demonstrates that our community can deal with the aftermath of political violence differently and not through mechanical, bureaucratic exclusion that will only result in creating an environment where people have nothing to lose. It is no surprise that police presence and expulsions have been followed by fire at our institutions.
● Shackville TRC as an open public process could provide a platform through which South African Youth and broader society can begin to critique and reimagine the advantages and shortcomings of the TRC as a process and provide a much needed reflective point. The RhodesMustFall movement, among many, are largely and openly critical and synical of the TRC process that brough South Africa’s present dispensation into being. This process could open up a space where those very criticisms and limitations can be tested and debated publicly as we continue to push towards a reflexive understanding of how we came to be where we are today.
● Shackville TRC will provide a space to problematise the ways in which the “victim” and “perpetrator” identities become used to individualise collective or mass action. Such a space could provide the basis for the emergence of a common memory of Shackville that takes into account a multitude of diverse experiences.
In short, the gambit for the Shackville TRC pushes the University of Cape Town to take a consistent position on what the appropriate means of dealing with political violence are.
It is either that restorative justice is desirable and a Shackville TRC is established or that the University of Cape Town must admit and reject publicly the legitimacy of post1994 TRC as a process that, among many things, was tasked with addressing the legacy of political violence (and facilitating constructive reconciliation of communities in conflict).
Is restorative justice reserved for powerful whites or when they are involved in political violence? Or can it also be used to provide different forms of engagement for the disenfranchised and dispossessed? Is restorative justice a luxury or an option?
While many student collectives, persons and organisations involved have taken particularly harsh positions on the South African TRC and its failings we must call upon those proponents, the University of Cape Town being of them, to step forward and demonstrate the capacity and potential for restorative justice in postconflict societies and communities.
The liberal institutions who laud these TRC processes must be put to the test, let us as a community see whether they are capable of living up to the rhetoric they readily prescribe for conflicts and political violence that exist beyond the comfort of the ivory tower.
Sign this petition now and breathe life into the Shackville TRC. This petition will be handed over on June 15 to UCT council thereafter we collectively demand the announcement of the halting of the internal proceedings and the commissioning of the Shackville TRC to be announced appropriately on Youth Day 2016, June 16 by 5pm.
The commission structure and its terms of reference will be collaboratively defined by Council and representatives of the charged and sentenced, including those adversely affected by the events before, during and after Shackville.
We call on organisations and individuals who promote and endorse restorative justice to openly issue support for this process as we look to turn a new chapter on the Student Uprisings of the 2015/2016 generation.
Please email [email protected] for further letters of support