On the morning of 3 October three members of the ASAWU executive committee were invited to meet with some students who have played a leadership role in the #FeesMustFall movement. This is one of several meetings held to attempt to build bridges. We understood the aim of the meeting to be to see whether we could assist in facilitating a way towards negotiations. In the meeting we discussed the role students wanted academic staff to play. We made it clear that academic staff have certain contractual and legal obligations and asked these be acknowledged. At the meeting, the student leaders present clearly stated a willingness to commit to non-violence and intimidation and indicated that they would welcome a continuation of a phased opening of the university. We thought that we had achieved an understanding in this respect.
In the afternoon of the same day, we received reports that some academic staff were intimidated in their offices by protesting students, led by the very same individuals we had met in the morning. The actions taken by some students in the afternoon undermined the discussion that was held in the morning, and revealed a lack of integrity at the core of the meeting request. In response, we voiced our disappointment with these disingenous tactics directly to the student leadership with the following message:
“Dear Student Leader,
To date, we have consistently sought out common ground regarding the common goal of higher education funding.
Today academics faced a range of threats and intimidation which has deeply concerned our membership and leadership.
It must be noted that out membership is our first priority, as is yours to you.
Please be reminded that out members are required in terms of their contracts of employment to obey the instruction to return to work, irrespective of their personal views or wishes.
We formally request that student leadership ensure discipline in order that the events of today are not repeated
If such incidents occur again, ASAWU will have no option but to cease our engagements with students.
President and Vice-President (ASAWU)”
We would like to reiterate ASAWU’s call, mandated by a general meeting last week, that all parties need to strive for peaceful, inclusive and negotiated solutions to the current funding crisis in higher education. We re-affirm our call for non-violent forms of protest and debate and the building of coalitions between staff, students and university managers to put the necessary pressure on government to solve the crisis. Finally we wish to state that it is imperative that any talks between parties be conducted in good faith, and reaffirm our own commitment to working towards solutions and coalitions.