Rhodes is the only university, and possibly the only institution in the country, where unvaccinated people are, to date, not allowed to enter.
Rhodes has held three council meetings this year, and the council was warned at each meeting that Rhodes was way out of line with the rest of the country regarding its vaccine mandate policy. However, prominent voices in the council, such as Vice-Chancellor Dr Sizwe Mabizela, Deputy Vice-Chancellor Prof Peter Clayton, Chair of Council Judge Gerald Bloem, and Susan Smailes, remain adamant that Rhodes should remain closed to unvaccinated students, staff, and members of the public.
Rhodes has fired several lecturers and staff for being unvaccinated and banned students from returning, regardless of whether they had previously contracted the virus and gained natural immunity.
In April, when the Vice Chancellor was questioned at council about the non-payment of unvaccinated staff, he denied the matter. Either he misled the council intentionally or was unaware of what his administration was doing. One lecturer’s medical aid was cut before he had even undergone a disciplinary hearing.
Rhodes’ policy caused a stir during the National Arts Festival. After President Ramaphosa had lifted Covid restrictions for the country, Rhodes sent out a media statement prohibiting festival goers from watching shows on campus unless they produced a vaccine passport or had a PCR test done at their expense.
As it turned out, several festival-goers entered shows on campus without being asked for proof of vaccine status. Keeping up strict mandate policies after the rest of the country had gone back to normal seemed like a façade that Rhodes had to keep up in case it faced legal action. An institution cannot fire employees and then do an about-turn on its policies because it would then be expected to reinstate them.
Families have left town due to Rhodes’ vaccine mandate, and roughly a thousand students did not return this year after the mandate was enforced. Yet Rhodes council “scratches its head” and debates why students didn’t return, as if it was a mystery.
When confronted about the vaccine mandate, certain council members repeat the mantra that Rhodes consulted its staff and students before enforcing the mandate. Therefore, the council needs their input before it ends the mandate. Staff and students, when questioned about this claim, said that they were unaware of any such consultation and had no say in the matter.
When the Vice-Chancellor was sent an email asking for proof that there had been consultation, the Registrar wrote a reply (on behalf of the Chair), which gave no evidence of consultation whatsoever.
This year, no issue on the Rhodes council agenda has been put to vote. When controversial items make it onto the agenda, if they do, prominent council members have their say, and the Chair asks if anyone disagrees while the council sits in stony silence. With all its faults, the Makana City council feels like a vibrant democracy after attending a Rhodes University council meeting.
Concerned Rhodes Council member