Anti-Vaccine Lockdown Movement of South Africa protest on August 30, 2021 in Pretoria.Students may soon follow suit as university’s impose vaccine mandates. Photo: Gallo Images
The SA Union of Students (SAUS) has not ruled out national student protests in its efforts to reject the move by the country’s universities to enforce mandatory Covid-19 vaccination. Several tertiary institutions, including the universities of Johannesburg, Wits, Free State and the Western Cape, have announced that they will not allow unvaccinated staff and students to access their campuses.However, the SAUS this week reiterated the statement it had made to Parliament’s portfolio committee on higher education last year, opposing the vaccine mandate at universities. It called on the committee to intervene “in this matter before it gets ugly”.
The union said it was “diametrically opposed to any mandatory vaccination policy”.
We will consequently ensure that, working with the respective student representative councils [SRCs] of all the institutions, we fight the senseless and unconstitutional draconian attempts to exclude and restrict students from accessing campuses.
SAUS spokesperson Asive Dlanjwa told City Press that, while the union had consistently encouraged students to get vaccinated, it was not in favour of the enforcement of vaccination.
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Dlanjwa said this was against the spirit of the Constitution, which allowed people to choose which medicine should be administered to them, including vaccinations.
“Spaces of higher learning are spaces where we expect that there should be intellectual engagement and discourse that is informed by facts and science, and that is informed by reason,” Dwanjwa said, adding:
And, therefore, you can’t, in an institution of higher learning, use draconian measures instead of an intellectual discourse. If institutions of higher learning cannot pursue their students and workers [to vaccinate] using facts and science, how much more [is done] in other sectors of society.
He added that when higher education institutions mandated vaccinations, they were also casting aspersions on the legitimacy of the vaccines. As a union, they had seen that, when people were mandated to vaccinate, they became reluctant and hesitant, and were repulsed by “what you are trying to enforce through draconian measures”.
Dlanjwa said what the universities “as public institutions” were doing was “not in line” with the pace and the direction the country was moving into, as government had not called for mandatory vaccinations.
That was why the union was opposed to the policy.
During one of his addresses to the nation about the Covid-19 pandemic in November, President Cyril Ramaphosa said government had set up a task team that would consult broadly on mandatory vaccinations for specific activities and locations.
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All the universities that had announced a mandatory vaccination policy said they were doing so for the academic project to get back to normal, and for students to return to face-to-face teaching and learning.
Since the pandemic broke out almost two years ago, universities have switched to online learning.
Last month, City Press reported that Professor Mamokgethi Phakeng, the vice-chancellor of the University of Cape Town (UCT), had said that the results of the past two years had shown that students who were suffering the most with remote learning were from the black working class and poor households.
Phakeng was speaking on the sidelines of the installation of Precious Moloi-Motsepe as UCT’s new chancellor.
Dlanjwa said the SAUS agreed that the sooner most students were vaccinated, the sooner there could be full contact learning.
“What we do not agree with is that the students must be forced [to vaccinate]. To give you an example, we can agree that children must go to school and receive basic education. But if it means they must be beaten up to enforce that, that is where we are not going to agree … that they must be beaten up to go to school.
“So, we agree that the students must be vaccinated, but what we are disagreeing with is the how [that should be done] and we believe the how hugely undermines the spirit of our Constitution,” he said.
And working with the SRCs … we will do absolutely everything within the law to ensure that we fight the mandatory vaccinations, including, but not necessarily limited to, protests.
Dlanjwa said no SRC would be forced to participate in whatever course of action the union chose in its rejection of the mandatory vaccination policies.
However, the SAUS had not heard from any SRC that welcomed and supported a mandatory vaccination policy, he added.
The Wits University SRC has on more than one occasion publicly denounced the mandatory vaccination policy put in place by the institution.
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In November, the student body said the policy was unethical and that the university could not make decisions about vaccination on behalf of students.
“Mandatory vaccinations would entail Wits University appointing itself the authority over students’ bodily autonomy.
“The precedent being set in a free and democratic South Africa is that public institutions can dictate the medical procedures that people need to undertake in order to gain access to those institutions,” read the SRC’s statement.
“The long-term ramification of the mandatory vaccinations is that this gives these institutions – which are well known for being unethical – the power to strip students of their rights and freedom when it comes to other aspects of life on campus.”
The SRC also argued that vaccination was a “personal and private choice”, and that students “should not be subjected to a vaccine passport in order to enter campus”.