Students of the Tshwane University of Technology (TUT) who were unlawfully evicted from their residences last year have asked the North Gauteng High Court in Pretoria to fine the university and three of its top officials R30 000 each for ignoring a court order.
The students, supported by Lawyers for Human Rights, in February last year obtained an urgent court order forcing the university to immediately allow them back into their residences following the mass illegal eviction of thousands of students during riots at campuses.
Although students took the court order to the campus and demanded immediate re-entry, the university only fully complied with the court order four days later.
The university has since unsuccessfully attempted to have the anti-eviction order set aside. The students yesterday applied for an order declaring the university and its three top officials in contempt of court and sentencing them to a fine of R30 000 or six months’ imprisonment each.
Advocate Donrich Jordaan argued on behalf of the students that the university’s deputy registrar of legal services, Vusi Mgwenya, had been aware of the court order since the first day but deliberately instructed security staff of the university not to comply with the order, thereby extending the gross violation of the human rights of thousands of students.
He argued that other top officials must have expected an urgent application that weekend, following the mass evictions, but chose not to answer their phones or e-mails. Mgwenya insisted he had not deliberately ignored a court order as he believed at the time that the court order was not genuine as the university was not informed of the intended application and the order did not mention a case number or the judge’s name.
Jordaan argued that Mgwenya’s apology to the court was “cosmetic and insincere” and that he was trying to mislead the court by claiming the students had voluntarily vacated the residences. The university’s advocate, Mac van der Merwe, argued that the university was under siege from rioters and protesters who vandalised property.
The court order was presented by riotous students and it was under the circumstances not surprising that the university’s representatives doubted it and first wanted to verify it before complying, he said. Judge Nomsa Khumalo reserved judgment.