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Death threats and intimidation as University of Fort Hare nursing students continue protest

By Yolanda Palezweni - Sep 5, 2017
Death threats and intimidation as University of Fort Hare nursing students continue protest

As thousands of university students across the country return to campuses for second semester studies, disgruntled nursing students at the University of Fort Hare’s East London Campus have vow to shut down their campus and continue with their now month-long protest.

Among their demands is that University of Fort Hare Nursing Science Faculty acting Head of Department (HOD), Ntombana Rala, be removed and expelled from the institution.

The protesting students claim that, Rala, who was also the lecturer for undergradutae nursing students ill-treated and deliberately failed students at the university.

Speaking to RNEWS, Democratic Nursing Organisation of South Africa (DENOSA), Provincial Deputy Chairperson, Anele Jack, said that since 2014, the lecturer has been abusive towards students and makes spiteful statements towards them.

Jack said that in 2015, students protested against Rala that she is rude and intimidating towards students and intentionally failing them.

He said that she was then sent to lecture at the Nelson Mandela University (NMU), but came back in 2016 and continued with the same treatment towards students.

“She came back 2016 and was the 3rd year Coordinator and all the 3rd year students were extremely abused and intentionally failed by her,” Jack claimed.

The students said that after another student march, at the start of the 2017 academic year, Fort Hare leadership agreed that she was no longer going to be involved with the students’ academics.

However, after a month, she was appointed as the acting HOD of the Nursing Faculty at the institution and was directly involved with daily day-to-day academics of undergraduates.

“We were promised by the management that they are going to investigate the allegations towards Rala and that she was going to be removed from the academics of students, it was surprising for us to see her being appointed as the acting head of the faculty,” said Former DENOSA chairperson, Ntsikelelo Macingwana.

Another nursing student spoke to RNEWS, on condition of that she remains anonymous, said that Rala has been intentionally abusing students and made it obvious for everyone to see.

“I’m doing my 3rd year and ever since I came to the university, Rala has been nothing, but a pain and a threat to my academics. She constantly reminds us of how we are going to fail our academics and never willing to help when we need her assistance,” she alleged.

She added that students tried to confront Rala about her behaviour and remarks towards them, but she always shoved them away.

The student further added that Rala told students, who have not paid up their R450 DENOSA membership fee that they won’t be allocated clinics for their practical training and will not be allowed to re-register to complete their studies.

“... if she is not removed from our academics, we will continue to fail in this institution,” she said.

"At some point, she came to a class pointing to a student saying 'I hate you' because the student was absent for one day on the clinical site. We have raised our concerns to the management about this issue and we were promised it will be dealt with, but to our surprise in May, we found out that she is an HOD.”

A meeting was held between student leadership and the Fort Hare management - and according to a DENOSA student leader, who also asked to be anonymous, the meeting was not fruitful. 

Speaking to RNEWS, the DENOSA student leader said that they raised students' concerns and that Rala to be moved from dealing directly with students, but the university's management was not willing to discuss that matter.

“When we got there and sat with the management, they were not willing to participate and when we raised our concerns, they were not interested and just left us there hanging,” she said.

Students vowed to continue with the protest.

This despite three nursing students being suspended by the university over the protests.

According to the DENOSA Secretary, Khanyisa Mcoki, the students were served with the notice in their residences, which gave them only two days to leave the university premises - which gave them no time to respond.

“The message is clear, the students are saying they want to go back to classes without Mrs Rala as a lecturer and if the three students are suspended, then all nursing students should be suspended - or if that can't happen, the faculty must be closed since the protest was a mass demonstration," he said.

In a statement issued by the management, it stated that a case has been opened at the Fleet Street East London Police Station after the protesting students resorted to making death threats to the university's staff.

It is alleged that a dead dove with a note stating 'in a few days this will be you’ was found in the Nursing Faculty.

According to the university, they will not allow the campus to descend into anarchy and hooliganism because of a small group.

Management has since appealed to all students and staff to distance themselves from nursing protest and focus on the successful completion of the 2017 academic year.

According to nursing student council chairperson, Zanda Mapate, on 1st September, the management issued out a notice to students that they must bring parents or legal guardians to sign a petition that they are calling off the strike and going back to classes.

Mapeta said that the management intimidated students, particularly the international students.

She claimed that the management threatened the students that they may lose their study permits if they don’t sign the petition.

“The management issued the notice and only 27 students signed the petition - mostly international students, which we understand because they fear losing their study permits,” said Mapeta.

She added that despite the management threats and the petition, students won’t return to classes until Rala is removed.

“We waited for management response on Friday, if they are going to close down the faculty or continue teaching the few students, who signed the petition because we are not going back to classes,” said Mapeta.

She concluded that the Nursing student council will organise a mass meeting with the students to pave a way forward.

“We called a meeting with the students to discuss what to do from now as the management doesn’t take us seriously, but until they met our demands we are not going back to classes."