Despite threats, NMMU resuming academic year on Tuesday

OCTOBER 17, 2016

After four weeks of disruptions, intensive engagements with key stakeholders and a court-ordered mediation process to end the #FeesMustFall shutdown at the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University (NMMU), the academic year is now set to resume on Tuesday.

"We know the shutdown has had a massive impact on our staff, students and their families," said Acting NMMU Vice-Chancellor: Dr Sibongile Muthwa, announcing the resumption of classes over the weekend.

"Our students are demotivated, angry and frustrated; and you, as parents and care-givers, were understandably frustrated by a lack of clarity and clear-cut answers. This was further compounded by financial worries and the anxieties you have for your children’s future and welfare.

"These concerns were ours too, making it imperative to resolve the impasse with the various student formations and return to the class in order to complete the 2016 academic year."

Agreements reached

"Very briefly, there were two outstanding issues that led to the deadlock, namely:

  • The national call for free, quality, decolonised education; and
  • The clearance of all debt for students who qualified for debt and down-payment relief in 2016," said the Vice-Chancellor.

"NMMU acknowledges that the campaign for free higher education for all is a noble cause, but that it is beyond the authority of any individual university. We have agreed to deploy resources to engage in research and conduct dialogues that will hopefully inform the national roadmap towards the realisation of free higher education for all.

"Until then, NMMU remains resolute in its call for free higher education for the poor and financial support for the so-called 'missing middle'."

She said that the NMMU has also committed to debt resolution within the next four months for those students, who qualified for debt and down-payment relief in 2016.

Peaceful resumption of NMMU operations and academic activities

"Throughout the recent national protests, NMMU has sought to avoid the use of force that has seen an escalation of violence throughout the higher education sector in South Africa. The University appreciates that staff and students may be anxious about their safety as they have witnessed what has happened elsewhere," described Dr Muthwa.

"Through a national directive by government, the South African Police Service (SAPS) were ordered to be present at all university campuses. NMMU is no exception to this decision.

"Furthermore, in response to legal action by a group of parents seeking to compel NMMU to re-open, the University agreed to a court-mediated process. However, this has failed for reasons beyond the control of NMMU.

"After careful consideration of the remaining options, and in order to resolve the situation, Management decided to seek an interdict. By means of this interdict, as wellas the agreements reached with the various student formations during the shutdown, NMMU is still seeking a peaceful resumption of the unfinished 2016 academic year."

She said that given that the issues within NMMU’s control have been resolved, there is no lawful reason why this cannot happen.

"We therefore appeal to all to conduct themselves in a way that ensures a peaceful resumption of the academic programme."

Recovery plans

While the NMMU remained shut, staff worked tirelessly to develop student-friendly academic and operational recovery plans to ensure the year is completed.

These plans cover the academic programme, accommodation support and other operational logistics.

  • Academic recovery plan

The adapted academic calendar assumes that with classes starting on Tuesday 18 October, that lectures will continue for about four weeks, followed by three days of study leave and about three weeks of examinations.

Overarching plans have been drafted, along with more detailed faculty-based plans which are sensitive to the fact that our students have lost momentum in their studies. NMMU has student counselling, wellness and other interventions in place to help students through this transitionary period. 

  • Accommodation recovery plan   

"Most student accommodation leases expire at the end of November. While recovery plans are already being made for those students living on-campus and those living in accredited accommodation off-campus, the support for students living off-campus in non-accredited establishmentsis more challenging," said the Vice-Chancellor.

"We have initiated a process to gather the contact details of these students in Port Elizabeth and George so that we have a data base of those who may require support. We advise you to go to the dedicated website input your details as soon as possible."

This plan, as with all others, will be shared more fully as we move forward.

  • Travel/transport arrangements

"As the academic year will stretch into December, we advise you not to make any further travel and transport arrangements until the new exam timetable is shared. If you made arrangements prior to the shutdown on 20 September, please try to postpone them. If this is not possible, then processes will be put in place for you to motivate why you could notchange your plans. Such students, after due consideration, will be given the opportunity of writing special exams next year."

Appeal for support

"This has been a hugely trying time for all involved. We apologise once again for the hardship and heartache that the uncertainty relating to the shutdown has caused, and thank you for your understanding.

"In the interests of all involved, we appeal to you to proactively encourage your children to persevere and peacefully resume and complete the 2016 academic year," she said.

"Please feel free to forward your concerns and queries to [email protected]  so that we can assist further."

However, the NMMU on Sunday said that it was aware of various threats on social media and so, it is advising the following for students wishing to return to classes:

  • Seek guidance from security staff should an entrance to any of the campuses be temporarily closed so that you can be directed elsewhere  
  • Call security staff on 041 5042009 or 50443483 (PE) or 044 8015183 or 0735851225 (George) if you need help. Please identify who you are, where you are and what emergency or threat you are facing. Help will be dispatched immediately
  • Go to the NMMU communication platforms for official information or verify information with the numbers listed above. Misinformation and rumours tend to cause unnecessary panic.

A national directive by government to the South African Police Service (SAPS) to be present at all universities means that police will be on standby to meet their obligations.

All staff and students are also asked to wear their identification cards, report any incidences of  intimidation or threats to [email protected]  and adopt a positive, calm attitude should any disruptions occur.