By Magnificent Mndebele & Gaby Ndongo
The president of the Student Representative Council at the University of Johannesburg, Onwabile Lubhelwana denies all the allegations posed to him that he may have received instructions from a high-ranking ANC figure to stop the FeesMustFall protests.
The Phone Call
A source who is part of the SRC and who has inside knowledge, asked to speak on condition of anonymity which The Open Journal has independently verified the position that the source holds within the SRC, alleges that Lubhelwana received a phone call from the Gauteng African National Congress chairperson and MEC of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs, Paul Mashatile, that instructed Lubhelwana to stop the UJ fees protests, and thereof he obeyed the orders.
“From my knowledge, the first couple of days the president did lead the protest until he was called by the member of the ANC to stop what he was doing,” the source said.
Apologising to lead the UJ fees protests
Soon after the fees protests decayed, The Open Journal had learned that Members of the Executive Council (MEC) at UJ held a meeting with all members of the SRC.
“The MEC sent a request to hold a meeting.The focal point of the meeting on the 7th [of October] was about the private security guards (bouncers), finance- the trust fund that UJ offers to students and we also discussed NSFAS, and just the financial position of the university,” the source stated.
In that meeting, Lubhelwana is alleged to have apologised to the Vice Chancellor, Professor Ihron Rensburg, and the MECs “with the way he conducted himself and the strike.”
“In the meeting, I kept quiet because he was apologising on his behalf, not on our behalf. I did not apologise at all, I am unapologetic,” the source explained.
After weeks of investigation The Open Journal has received a list of the SRC members who attended the meeting, including the Deputy President of the SRC, Justina Komana. When Komana was asked about Onwabile’s apologies for leading the protests she giggled for a while and said, “I can’t answer that, I think you [should] engage the president on that and ask him.”
“I’ve been attending meetings with the VC (Vice Chancellor) and I don’t recall any scenario where the president had to apologise to the VC unless he did it privately, but I am not aware of that information,” Komana added.
Internal conflicts within the SRC
The entire structure of the SRC on all campuses at UJ is made up of SA Student Congress (SASCO) majority, and now frustrations begin to mount among other SASCO members that Lubhelwana could have interests that deviate from SASCO or the SRC constituency.
“In my personal capacity I do not recognise the SRC, for obvious reasons,” Aluwani Chokoe, a 2015-2016 former treasurer of SASCO at UJ-APK said in a giggly tone. “You can’t be elected to represent students yet you turn a blind eye to the outcry of the students,” she said while referring to Lubhelwana.
Despite the controversies, Komana said she still has confidence in President Lubhelwana because of his “strong leadership skills.”
Lubhelwana admitted to The Open Journal that the SRC is not performing efficiently and there are internal battles in the SRC.
A shot to topple Onwabile from power
Lubhelwana said all these allegations are means of further dividing the structure of the SRC and some of his colleagues want to topple him from power.
When the allegations were once again firmly asked, he denied having to deliver any form of apology to the management.
“I never met the VC alone. I am the first president to refuse meeting prof Ihron Rensberg alone because it allows the space for people to lie, so I call everyone to be [present when meetings are held],” Lubhelwana said.
With the perception maintained by several students leaders that he is a spy due to his tactic of “selling out the SRC by apologizing to the university’s management”. The president asked, “Which spy gets a criminal record; which spy allows themselves to be arrested . . . beaten up [or] . . . sleeps in the hospital?”
“The students who feel betrayed are the students who when others marched: they watched and took pictures”, said Lubhelwana when asked about the promise he made to not disappoint the aspirations of UJ students on the morning of the 27th of September during a consultative meeting leading to the protest.
Nonetheless, he postulates that “The students who were there understand why it was difficult for us [the SRC] to continue; they understand that when others get arrested . . . assaulted . . . pepper sprayed there are some who are watching”. Hence, the need for collective reactions and actions is vital amongst UJ students because the formal interaction is not the ‘only way’ to deal with the crisis that students are facing.
With the allegation of being mentored and instructed by Mashatile to stop the fees protests, Lubhelwana said,“There is never a time when you are told how to lead the people who have elected you . . . [and] I was never called [by anyone] to stop the protest.” He added that if he had ever done that he ‘would be betraying the Constitution of the SRC and the students themselves.’
After erratic and evasive responses, Lubhelwana said Mashatile had never called him to stop the protests. However, he revealed to have met Mashatile and other ministers to discuss ‘governance matters,’ saying that meeting government [officials ] is a prerequisite [in order] to [be able to] lead [an] institution like UJ.
Questions about the allegations of Mashatile’s influence on the UJ fees protests were sent to the media liaison officer and official spokesman of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs, Mogomotsi Mogodiri, but since then there has been no reply despite the promise to be answered promptly.