Now UCT's student leaders support call to vacate residences over Covid-19

18 March 2020 - 14:28
UCT says it will help students to vacate residences.
Image: UCT Student @UCTStudent via Twitter UCT says it will help students to vacate residences.

The president of the student representative council (SRC) at the University of Cape Town (UCT) has blamed “rogue elements” in the council for saying students should remain in residences despite an official decision to vacate them in the face of Covid-19.

The call for students to stay put came from the council’s secretary-general and deputy secretary-general, Asemahle Ntumntum and Siseko Kosani, who instructed students to “occupy” and “not vacate” – a call that was made on official SRC letterhead and amplified on its official Twitter account.

Their call for protest read: “DO NOT VACATE. OCCUPY. We call upon all black and progressive wardens, sub-wardens and house committees to reject the instruction of the vice-chancellor and keep our residences open.”

But on Wednesday, SRC president Akha Tutu told SowetanLIVE's sister publication TimesLIVE: “No, we are not occupying. The most sensible thing now is to follow the directive of the university. Of course, there are some rogue elements in the SRC who just disagree for the sake of disagreeing.”

He added that students in residences were making use of help offered by UCT.

The previous day, the official SRC call to action complained that the decision amounted to “unfathomable actions” and “the student voice” being “excluded”. 

The group hashtagged its stance UCTWeWontMove and said it would be “bombarding” the vice-chancellor, Mamokgethi Phakeng, with its “clarion call” to keep residences open.

On Monday, the UCT executive leadership announced that a member of staff had tested positive and that the university would be closed.

All residences, potential breeding grounds for viral spread, would need to be “completely vacated within 72 hours” from Monday, the vice-chancellor announced.

However, shortly after the call was made, the SRC called on students to defy the call to vacate residences.

This came a day after President Cyril Ramaphosa declared coronavirus a national disaster.

The university said that the call to close residences was because “the most important public health principle is containment of the disease as far as possible”.

But shortly after the campus communication was released, the SRC called for a sit-in via social media platforms.

Elijah Moholola, speaking on behalf of the university, said UCT had “put immediate measures in place to support students requiring assistance with vacating residences within 72 hours”.

These included immediate payment of allowances to students on financial aid, working with external travel agencies on possible travel plans for students, liaising with the department of home affairs in cases involving international students and providing safe storage for students’ personal belongings.