#FeesMustFall students drop court bid against NMMU

The #FeesMustFall movement at NMMU and several student activists, who lodged an urgent application in the Grahamstown High Court to force the university to provide them with the means to complete the academic year, threw in the towel yesterday and withdrew their application.

They have also agreed to pay the university’s legal costs.

Judge Murray Lowe had arranged an especially early sitting of the court this morning to accommodate the urgent matter.

But NMMU’s correspondent attorney in Grahamstown, Owen Huxtable, confirmed that the matter had been withdrawn.

“FMF [#FeesMustFall] and the other applicants have withdrawn the application and tendered NMMU’s costs,” he said.

#FeesMustFall and the student activists, who participated in protests which shut down the university for a prolonged period, claimed in court papers that the e-learning introduced by the university last month disadvantaged students who lacked internet and computer access.

NMMU instituted the e-learning as one component of its academic recovery plan in a final bid to complete the academic year after the shutdown.

The group claimed e-learning effectively excluded them and was an immediate and direct threat to their academic wellbeing and that of all the others who could not access it through no fault of their own.

They wanted the court to order the institution to come up with alternative learning methods to help them complete the year or to provide them with proper means to meet the requirements.

This included free food and accommodation for the coming months and access to all necessary equipment and counselling.

Acting NMMU vice-chancellor Dr Sibongile Muthwa dismissed their application as a cynical attempt to prevent the university from completing the academic year.

She said the protesters were the authors of their own misfortune who had, through their unlawful activities, created the dire circumstances that had necessitated the adoption and implementation of the academic recovery plan in the first place.

In her affidavit, she set out in detail the extraordinary measures introduced by the university to help its 27 000 students complete the year after the fee-protest disruptions.

They included a multi-layered tuition programme, moving lecturing and test facilities off campus, substitution of scheduled tests with continuous assessment programmes, extensive security and student support, and shifting exam dates to allow students to write next month and in January.

It had expanded its active online e-learning sites and increased access to computers and connectivity for students.

The students’ attorney, Asanda Mgangatho, was not available for comment yesterday.

While it was not immediately clear why the students withdrew their application, Muthwa had pointed out that the application was fatally flawed as #FeesMustFall was not a legal entity capable of suing or being sued.

She had also pointed out that the recovery programme would, in any event, largely be completed in all material respects by tomorrow and exams would commence next week.

NMMU spokeswoman Zandile Mbabela said the university welcomed the withdrawal of the application.

“The withdrawal effectively supports the university’s view that the application was ill-conceived and that [it] has done all it could to ensure that all its students, irrespective of economic standpoint, have an opportunity to complete the academic year if they so choose,” she said.

Several #FeesMustFall NMMU members refused to comment.

Lizo Jim said: “Every time we give The Herald facts you turn them into a lie. We don’t have the interest to speak to you. That is what we have decided in our meeting.”

Despite the #FeesMustFall NMMU movement making reference in the court papers to the fact that they wanted NMMU to provide them with food vouchers and accommodation, Jim said: “You [said] we are going to ask for food. You write such silly stories about us.” – Additional reporting Siyamtanda Capa

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