The Democratic Alliance is outraged at the political intolerance shown by the Rhodes University administration in the run-up to the ward 12 bye election on 7 August. Ward 12, which encompasses most of Rhodes University campus, as well as a few of Makhanda’s (Grahamstown’s) residential streets, is home to large numbers of students, lecturers and ordinary citizens of the city.
The DA had initially requested that its Deputy Chairperson of Federal Council and Shadow Minister of Public Enterprises, Natasha Mazzone MP, address a political science lecture on Monday 22 July, to discuss the implications of state capture. This was refused on the grounds that it would amount to undue politicisation. Thereafter, the party booked the Blue Lecture Theatre at Eden Grove for a public meeting on Monday 22 July at 13h15. This booking was confirmed on Thursday 17 July with the relevant officials at the booking office.
On Friday morning, we received notification that because Malusi Gigaba, the former ANC Minister of Home Affairs, Finance and Public Enterprises, and a person who had been intrinsically linked to state capture, had been booked to deliver a lecture in the Red Lecture Theatre at Eden Grove at the same time, our booking was immediately cancelled “for security concerns”.
On further investigation, we were informed that “a new protocol was in place requiring 4 weeks’ notice”. We were also informed that, because Gigaba’s lecture had been booked by the Economics Students Society, it would not require the same stringent requirements, whereas ours was “of a political nature”. It must be noted that we booked our event through the University’s Conferencing Department. This was because we were booking it as a public event, and we would be responsible for our own security and logistics.
We are further concerned at the behaviour of Rhodes security, who have prevented DA activists from interacting with students and residents on the streets of Makhanda. We have been asked to move away from the entrances to Rhodes buildings and residences (despite the fact that we were on the pavements, and in no way impeding access or causing any type of disruption). This effectively limits the ability of political parties to campaign effectively and makes Rhodes a “no-go” area for political contestation.
It is becoming increasingly clear that Rhodes University, once the beating heart of liberal democracy in South Africa, is now supporting those implicated in state capture, like Gigaba, against those who have fought it tooth and nail. Censorship of political opinion is not the way to foster democratic ideals. Our constitution guarantees the freedom of political opinion and expression, as well as the right to campaign for the political parties of our choice. Rhodes’ behaviour in this regard is nothing more than a repressive clampdown on the rights of the residents of ward 12, and in particular, the students at the university, to make informed decisions about their future.
The Democratic Alliance has written to the Vice-Chancellor in this regard, and will not hesitate to use all means at its disposal to ensure that all political parties are able to campaign freely, and that there are no “no-go” areas.
Rhodes University’s response
“Mr Malusi Gigaba was not invited by the University. He was invited and hosted by a student society. The Society notified the University of its intention to invite Mr Gigaba in June. Permission for this visit was granted.
“Political activity on campus is allowed and encouraged under specific rules and guidelines in order to minimise any disruption to the to the academic programme. It is important for the University to protect the academic programme. The University has processes and protocols that need to be activated for high profile visits on campus. Reasonable notice is required in this regard. This position was communicated in writing and telephonically to the Democratic Alliance when a request was made to the University for a campaign programme on campus. It is not true that the University exercises any preference when it comes to allowing political activity on campus.”