Judgment reserved in high court battle to force varsity to resume normal activities
Concerned parents were back in the Grahamstown High Court yesterday demanding that Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University reopen its doors, discipline its protesting students, and get more security on campus.
The Concerned Association of Parents and others representing Tertiary Education at Universities (Captu) wants the court to order the troubled university to reopen and resume all academic activities within 48 hours, to appoint additional security, to call in the police when necessary, and to take disciplinary steps against students acting unlawfully,
Advocate Izak Smuts, SC, for Captu, argued there was a duty on the university to take the necessary steps to give effect to its contract with students.
He said the university had failed to provide enough security to allow the academic programme to resume and had not proceeded with disciplinary or criminal proceedings against any students.
He said the rampant crime on campus was affecting the contractual and constitutional rights of the bulk of students.
Advocate Max du Plessis, for NMMU, said reopening the university posed a very real danger to the lives of students.
He said the protests at universities were not of their making and, without the financial means to offer a free education, they did not have the means to provide a solution.
“Now [Captu] come to court to try to take away the university’s discretion and say how they should deal with the problem.”
Captu chairman Jacobus Gerber charged in an affidavit that the university had taken insufficient steps to protect the university or its students and staff.
But NMMU vice-chancellor Dr Sibongile Muthwa said Captu was attempting to usurp NMMU’s executive powers.
The relief sought by Captu was unrealistic, precipitous and wholly inappropriate, Muthwa said.
She said the steps taken by NMMU had not been inadequate.
Acting Judge Margaux Beard questioned whether she was in a position to second-guess the fluid situation at the university.
“Imagine if there was a rampaging mob and not enough police present. In the normal course, the university would instruct students and staff to go home as their safety could not be guaranteed.
“But with an interdict in place they could not do that.” Beard reserved judgment. ý NMMU spokeswoman Zandile Mbabela said last night the university’s “multi-layered strategy” to help its students complete the academic year was under way.
Faculty-specific plans would be communicated to students in readiness for the resumption of some classes from Monday.
Various adaptations to the original teaching and learning approach would be made, including the cutting back of face-to-face classroom contact, the redesign of assessments, and the replacement of some exams with a continuous assessment approach.
NMMU had also fast-tracked its online learning offerings.
Staff and students could access digital information resources, including online learning resources, from external venues such as municipal libraries, Mbabela said.
Various off-campus venues had been made available to allow for classes, tests and exams.
Other support included counselling and supplemental instruction and assistance.