By Reabetswe Khutsoane
This article is exclusive to the Online Edition 2 of VARSITY News.
The Covid-19 epidemic has changed life as we know it. The government’s initial declaration of a national disaster prohibited social interactions in an effort to minimise the spread of the virus. This was bound to change the way UCT operates considering the social and interactive nature of the university.
UCT’s response to the President’s address was to immediately commence Term 1 vacation and to ask students to vacate residences within 72 hours. This decision would be in the interest of protecting students from contracting and spreading the virus. Yet, and understandably so, this created an outpour of panic amongst students who were now stranded, and desperately seeking to return home under stressful conditions. This is where the SRC would step in as the voice of the students, raising their concerns.
Unexpectedly, the SRC did more than just raise concerns. After initially encouraging students to occupy the residences beyond the 72-hour period, the SRC’s president seemed to ‘understand’ the reasoning behind the University’s decisions. The president of the SRC retracted the council’s previous statement to remain in residences and encouraged students to vacate residences. Confusion shortly followed. The Council went on to “reject and retract the retraction”, questioning whose side their president was on, which questioned the reliability of the council’s structure and whether the decisions they take are “in the best interests” of students.
The internal politics of the student-led structure seemed to overshadow the main objective of preventing the spread of Covid-19 within the university space. With the SRC’s response to UCT’s approach to the regulations outlined by the National Disaster Act, these internal politics were made clear. While acknowledging the role of the SRC in ensuring students received the appropriate aid they needed to be safe, the contradiction in their statements was unnecessary and clouded what was their initial objective was.
For students unable to afford transport to return home on such short notice or because of looming travel bans, the SRC’s mixed communication only added to their stress. However, through all this confusion, UCT helped students return home by moving up payments to students on financial aid, working with travel agencies as well as providing buses to metros in four provinces.
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