An urgent application by Makhanda Against Mandates (MAM) for an interdict against Rhodes University’s Covid-19 vaccine mandate has been struck off the roll with costs.
High court judge Murray Lowe heard five hours of argument over whether the matter was urgent during online court proceedings on Tuesday.
On Wednesday morning, he ruled that the urgency of the application was “self-created” as MAM had known about the vaccine mandate since October 2021 but waited until January 2022 to oppose it in the courts.
Lowe said Rhodes had not been given enough time to respond to the application – the timelines were stringent, unreasonable and unsustainable.
Lowe said he was cognisant of “the chilling effect that an adverse costs order may have on Constitutional litigation” but ordered MAM to pay Rhodes’s “wasted costs”.
He said while the awarding of costs impacted access to justice, “there has been a considerable failure [by MAM]in the proper consideration of all the relevant issues relating urgency”.
MAM is an alliance of Rhodes University students, parents and employees, led by philosophy lecturer Francis Williamson, which applied to the high court to review and set aside the vaccine mandate.
MAM lost the first argument around ‘urgency’. This means that the Rhodes vaccine mandate is still in place, and students, staff, service providers and visitors cannot access the university without a vaccine certificate.
Rhodes University director of communications Luzuko Jacobs said the university welcomed the court judgement.
“The University has, since reopening in 2022, implemented a vaccination mandate as a condition for entry onto campus for all staff, students, and visitors as part of a full and safe return to campus following two years of virtual teaching, learning and limited activity,” he said in a statement.
Council also approved an exemption application and an alternative health status process.
To date, over 97% of staff and 95% of the students have submitted their vaccination certificates to the University.
“Exemption applications are considered weekly. Vaccines, rapid tests and booster shots are available on campus,” Jacobs said.
“Incontrovertible scientific evidence shows that vaccines are safe and are most effective to protect ourselves and others from the severe impact of COVID-19.
“The University owes its academic and research successes to its compact size, face-to-face engagements and excellent student residential system. While the use of technology to support teaching and learning is an important modality for the University, it is complemented by small group engagements in the form of tutorials and discussions to enhance the quality of learning and teaching.”
A MAM representative said the group would meet soon to decide how to proceed. If the group chooses to pursue the matter, they will have to re-enrol it on the ordinary court roll, which could take months to be heard.
Meanwhile, several Rhodes students have tested positive for Covid-19 in the past few weeks, contributing to an increase of active local cases from 10 to 31.