House of Cards: Politics and Personal Attacks Drive Calls for the Incoming Law Students Council to Resign

A Possible Procedural Violation of Electoral Rules Triggers Escalating Unpleasantness in the Faculty of Law

By Daniel P. Rossmeisl (Managing Editor)

On September 29th, 2021, the final results for the 2021/2022 Law Students Council (LSC) election were announced. 12 candidates ran for the 9 available positions. Daniel Hukamdad, Mwaka Mukata, Aimee De Jager, Jessica Chuang, Cami Steele, Joy Magagula, Tadiwa Magadzire, Lauren Schaefer, and Lithamsanqa Jacobs were all elected to form the incoming LSC. However, interpersonal tension resulting from the newly-formed LSC’s constituting meeting quickly spilt out into the student body. It became apparent that 6 of the 9 members had run their campaigns together under the leadership of LSC Chair Daniel Hukamdad. The apparent side-lining of the remaining three members, two of whom have established experience at UCT unlike the other first-year leaders, brought greater student-wide attention to the electoral process.  

Students from the Prelim A and B classes suggested that Mr Hukamdad had, in effect, formed a ‘caucus’ in a bid to secure his position as Chair of the LSC. Mr Hukamdad has not denied such charges. In his resignation letter Mr Humkamdad defends his action: “To my mind, it is both perfectly normal and entirely acceptable – both before and after an election, for prospective candidates to muse on the possibility of holding certain positions on a council in-line with the work and effort that they feel they can bring to it.” It appears that not all students agree. 

Unhappy with an apparent ‘lack of transparency’, a number of students from different classes and years in the Law Faculty contested the election results. While the 2020 Approved Electoral Regulations do allow that “candidates may form groups for the purpose of the election”, this provision is afforded with the caveat that “they register their group with the Election Commission in writing.” The alleged caucus did not register as a ‘group’, and some students interpreted this as a deliberate procedural violation of the electoral process. Arguments and discussion around this potential issue on several Law-related, student Whatsapp groups opened the floodgates for more accusations from students both in support and against the alleged caucus and its members. 

Allegations of early campaigning and false campaign promises (including whether the alleged caucus had secured sponsorship for the annual final year dance) were levelled against the incoming members of the LSC. Mr Hukamdad and his fellow LSC team responded to these alleged “personal attacks” on the Whatsapp groups – triggering ire that the LSC had been provided access to unofficial channels of student communication. These tensions came to a head when Ms Steele allegedly muted one of the Whatsapp groups of a class that she was not part of, before allowing Mr Hukamdad to post a voice note in his (and his team’s) defence. Outcry on the group forced Ms Steele to apologise for acting beyond her purview and take full accountability for wrongly using a private Whatsapp group to pursue a political UCT agenda. 

Complications ensued when the OIC joined Law-related, student Whatsapp groups as part of an independent investigation at the behest of members of the alleged caucus. In response to students’ complaints that monitoring private Whatsapp conversations constituted an institutional overreach, Dr Alves defended her well-intentioned action: “the sexual misconduct policy, which was endorsed by SRC and students, ensures that digitally managed environments by UCT can be accessed in order to provide support to survivors who are experiencing harm.” In addition, Dr Alves made it clear that she joined with permission and left when asked to do so. Several students, who wish to remain anonymous, told VARSITY (independently) that they felt that institutions were being used to intimidate and suppress opposition.  

However, more than intimidated, the Law Faculty seems fatigued. “I’m just so tired of this,” one student told VARSITY, “It’s exam season, things are piling up, and now I have to deal with this? It’s toxic. It’s wrong.”

Complaints regarding the validity of the election were also channelled toward the Dean of Law, Professor Chirwa, and the Electoral Commission. When asked for his position, Prof. Chirwa told VARSITY that “the Dean is not one of the institutions to whom an application to set aside an election can be made.”

As of the writing of this article six of the nine LSC members have resigned their position. The most recent resignation is that of the Chair, Mr Hukamdad. Though Mr Hukamdad indicated his willingness to speak to VARSITY, logistics prevented a meeting from taking place before the publishing of this article. 

[An earlier version of this article misstated the number of LSC members who had resigned. It was six of the nine LSC members, at the time of writing, not five]

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