By Mmusi Maimane MP, Leader of the Democratic Alliance:
The following remarks were made by the DA Leader, Mmusi Maimane MP, at Fort Hare University, Alice Campus. Maimane was joined by DA Eastern Cape Provincial Leader & NMB Mayoral Candidate, Athol Trollip MPL, and DA Youth Chairperson, Yusuf Cassim MP:
The DA has come to the University of Fort Hare (UFH) today to stand up for the constitutional rights and freedoms of students on this campus.
Earlier this year the DA Students Organisation (DASO) won an historic victory when they wrestled control of the SRC from the ANC-aligned SASCO. Since claiming that victory members of DASO have increasingly come under attack from UFH management.
The most recent attack on DASO has come from the Registrar, Prof Mike Somniso, who threatened to unleash the ANC’s uMkhonto weSizwe military veterans (MK) on DASO students at the university’s Alice campus.
This follows numerous assaults and threats on DASO members, the hijacking of the Student Parliament by SASCO, local police refusing to open cases where DASO members have been assaulted, and the Head of Security and Student Developer overheard plotting to poison the SRC President.
The threats against DASO reflect a clear desire to prevent it from doing its job of serving the students. This amounts to a refusal to respect their victory in a free and fair democratic election and a rejection of the foundation of our constitutional democracy.
The DA will not tolerate the intimidation of our members, or in fact any students at UFH. I have therefore today met with the Vice-Chancellor of UFH, Dr Dr Mvuyo Tom, and urged him to suspend Prof Somniso with immediate effect following his disgraceful comments.
These remarks have no place at an institution that is known for having educated many of the heroes of the struggle against Apartheid, including Nelson Mandela, Govan Mbeki and Oliver Thambo. They fought for a constitution that entrenches civil rights and political freedoms. The DA will not allow these rights to be undermined by pro-ANC members of UFH management.
The Vice-Chancellor has given me his assurance that he will investigate the matter and will provide feedback on the security situation as well as the Registrar’s suspension in due course.
I have also raised the DA’s concerns over the financial mismanagement of the university with the Vice-Chancellor. The university is technically bankrupt with a deficit of R100 million, and has been using funds from the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) to pay staff salaries.
NSFAS is earmarked to assist those students who would otherwise be unable to afford to study. Illegally diverting this funding toward salaries is denying these students the opportunities they deserve.
We have a responsibility to protect the legacy of this iconic institution and guard against its decay due to maladministration. The dire situation at UFH must be addressed with the utmost urgency.
The DA’s vision for South Africa is to build a society based on the values of freedom, fairness and opportunity. Key to this is making sure that young people are given the chance to pursue a life they value.
This requires not only that we grow the economy, but also that we empower young people with the skills and knowledge required to find a job. Young people are hit hardest by the unemployment crisis with 2 out of 3 of those who are without work being young people.
Institutions of higher education must play a central role in developing young people into active participants in the economy who can help build a better tomorrow for South Africa. The DA will not stand by while this role is undermined. We cannot allow our universities to fail those who study at them.