UWC council suspends two members after student unrest
THE UNIVERSITY of the Western Cape this week confirmed that two council members, representing 70 000 graduates of the university’s convocation, have been suspended pending an investigation into allegations by the Student Representative Council that they supported the grievances of protesting students on the campus.
A news release issued by the university on Thursday said: “As part of the council meeting agenda, the council dealt with a formal complaint about the conduct of two council members, Mr Brian Williams and Mr Songezo Maqula, for their perceived engagement with the protesting students. The university said the council made the decision to suspend both of these council members, pending further investigation.”
The university said it had established an ad hoc committee to look into the conduct of the two, and report back to the council as soon as possible.
The suspensions were immediately condemned as unlawful by convocation president Mulungisi Noludwe, who threatened to take the institution to court.
The SRC letter, sent to council chairman Perry-Mason Mthunzi Mdwaba on November 6, stated that “the SRC wishes to register its deepest disappointment and displeasure with the conduct of particularly two council members, namely Mr Brian Williams and Mr Songezo Maqula”.
The letter alleged that Williams, in particular, “took the liberty of coming to campus on October 30, 2015, without consulting the SRC and the rector, to address the protesters in a manner that was perceived as fuelling and agitating them”. The SRC also alleged in the letter that Maqula “was seen to be motivating and encouraging students to continue protesting”.
The suspensions issue was not specifically listed on Thursday’s official council agenda.
It is understood that the decision to suspend the councillors was taken before the council could discuss a proposal from the convocation calling for discussions around Mdwaba, which could potentially spook donors and undermine the integrity of the institution’s corporate governance.
Weekend Argus is in possession of the document handed in at the meeting, which detail the convocation’s motion for a discussion on risks to the institution of Mdwaba continuing as chairman. Maqula, one of the two suspended members, put forward a written motion that the council “deliberate the full spectrum of risks attached to the University of the Western Cape if Mr Mthunzi Mdwaba continues as the chairperson of its council”.
At issue was the ruling on Mdwaba by the South Gauteng High Court “that declared him a delinquent director, as well as his non-disclosure of that fact to the council”.
Maqula warned of a potential negative impact on revenue streams vital to UWC.
“Good corporate governance and ethics, as well as transparency, go hand in hand, and there are inescapable obligations we have as council members to protect the institution from possible donor revolt,” he said.
The motion concludes by stating that Mdwaba’s continued presence as council chairman may constitute a “grave risk to the university, its reputation and its image”.
It is understood that questions of due process were raised in connection with the suspensions.
The university council meeting took place in the wake of a bitter and intense struggle waged by the #UWCfeesmustfall movement, during which police were brought on to campus for the first time since apartheid to quell protests by students.
The result of the conflict has been the interruption of the regular academic programme, including exams, which were eventually postponed until the new year.
The council said it “is very concerned about the situation on campus, particularly the disruption of the academic programme and the ongoing incidents of violence on campus”.
“While council supports students’ plea for equitable and affordable access to higher education, and other demands being made by students, it strongly condemns the violence and vandalism that occurred at UWC during the student protest action.”
The communication also confirmed that the council chairman, despite his adamant stance that he would not meet any group except the officially recognised SRC, was part of a delegation that earlier met designated representatives of the UWC #feeswillfall movement on Wednesday. It noted that it was agreed that the student movement could submit a written presentation of their issues to the council for consideration.
SERIOUS: UWC council member Brian Williams.
SUSPENDED: Songezo Maqula