The three student activists, who were suspended in relation to the arson attack on the Sanlam Auditorium say the *2016 administration of the UJ branch of SASCO betrayed them and reduced political contestation at their expense.
Xhamla Songwevu, Lindokuhle Xulu and Sandile Mdlongwa were served with 5-year suspension letters which prohibit them from enrolling at UJ or any other institution in South Africa.
“We don’t think that SASCO did enough to lift our suspensions,” said Songwevu. “However, SASCO used the opportunity they got from our suspensions to further monger political power to reduce contestation within the organization for positions.”
Another one of the suspended students Sandile Mdlongwa referred to the 2016 SASCO administration led by Onwabile Lubhelwana as a ‘captured SRC’ organisation.
“History of the SRC proves that they have always been in the pockets of the management, pushed to sell out positions,” Mdlongwa said. “SASCO and the SRC did nothing. They were afraid of management because they were threatened, instead, they made sure [that the] UJ 17 [took] the fall for it.”
Songwevu shared Mdlongwa’s sentiments, stating that SASCO prioritized politics over camaraderie. “Political affiliations distanced themselves from us, they provided auxiliary services to the management acting like a ‘Management Representative Council’,” Songwevu said.
Songwevu denied any involvement in the destruction of the UJ auditorium that happened on the 16th of May last year. “I didn’t burn the auditorium,” he said.
When it comes to who could have been responsible for the arson, Lindokuhle Xulu said the attention should shift to UJ’s private security guards. “It is tender-prenuers who would benefit from burning the auditorium, bouncers may have burnt the auditorium in order to keep their contract with the university so that they continue receiving hefty payment,” Xulu said.
Xulu believed the university had mismanaged funds by hiring “unnecessary” security personnel despite non-violence from students. He said that in doing this university neglected operational costs and maintenance of their facilities.
Sandile Mdlongwa said that no student could have burnt the auditorium. “The university wanted to portray us as violent so that no one listens to us, no student was prosecuted for the burning of the auditorium which makes the case non-existent yet we are still suspended,” he said.
The legal assistance that the UJ three received from pro bono lawyers has proven ineffective as the university has not lifted their suspensions.
“Lawyers disappeared and people who believed in us and our struggle became few,” Mdlongwa said.
“Until they find us guilty in any court of law, there is no need to victimize us as students, our suspensions were only to victimize us,” said Songwevu.
Songwevu is concerned that there are many questions which remained unanswered about the inquiry into the arson.
“I stand resolute that there is no student who burnt down the auditorium we know who burnt down the auditorium, we know how many guards were on duty that night, where were they? Why were the cameras so conveniently off that day?
“Why is the university suddenly quiet on the matter of the auditorium? Why is the investigation being prolonged? Could it be that the university lied to the media by saying they know the students who burnt the auditorium? Why are we not being tried in a court of law?” Songwevu asked.
Xhamla Songwevu believed that students in universities needed to engage actively in political activism to fall out of what he calls a “mono-view” of the University and the management and to realise that free and quality education is feasible.
Yet, even in their disappointment towards the student organization SASCO, UJ management and the law, the trio remain hopeful that they will be allowed to return to the University of Johannesburg. They did say, however, that the suspensions have had negative consequences for them.
“The suspensions placed us at an unemployable position because we don’t have qualifications to look for work to feed our families,” Xulu said.
“They do not want all of us back, but they have allowed me to finish my modules at UNISA, it is not by the effort of the SRC but of persons of influence who advocate for us to go back,” said Mdlongwa.
Despite wanting to come back to the institution the Songwevu said that he would not compromise his stance on university fees.
“We will never be silent about matters that matter, we will speak out whether it costs us our future, which it already has, we are willing to give up much more, we hope that the SRC will lead us back to campus because we have no other campus than UJ,” concluded Songwevu.
The spokesperson for the university, Herman Esterhuizen said he could not comment on the matter because it was still under police investigation.
*Correction: An earlier version of this article neglected to mention that the three activists were referring to the 2016 administration of UJ SASCO. This error made it seem as if the article was an attack on the current SRC. The Open Journal apologises for this mistake.