On 25 October the SRC held the fourth quarter Student Forum in terms of section 43 of the Constitution for Student Governance (CSG). This student forum was exceptional as it also served as the second and third quarter student forum. However, possibly due to running over time, the forum had to be dissolved on account of SRC members leaving the forum prematurely, rendering the gathering unconstitutional. With this, PDBY investigates, the final student forum of 2022.
Point of order – what does Rule 11 even mean?
The unceremonious and incessant raising of Points of Order in terms of the Rules of Student forum are not new to student forum. Normally this results in a back and forth between the Chief Justice, as the presiding officer, and members in attendance. This back and forth can last anywhere from 45 minutes to an hour, which often disrupts and extends the proceedings. However, unlike previous student forums, the application of rule 11 of the Rules of Student Forum raised much debate among those in attendance and the Chief Justice of the Constitutional Tribunal, Tiara Josephs. This controversy even raised questions concerning the professional competence of the Chief Justice, as incoming president of the SRC, Njabulo Sibeko, said, “the Chief Justice, is a flip flopper!”
The events that lead to the above began when following several points of order from Thabiso “Mathaithai” Masomakeng, a member of the EFFSC, the Chief Justice made a ruling in terms of Rule 11(12) read in conjunction with rule 7 and rule 11(3)(b) of the Rules of Student Forum. The Chief Justice ruled that she will not be hearing further points of order for the time being. Rule 11(12) states: “a member may raise a point of order at any time during the proceedings except where the presiding officer, the Chief Justice, has made a ruling on a point of order which is final and binding”. Given that this was the initial rule that the Chief Justice relied on to dismiss further points of order, confusion was bound to occur. The aforementioned is evidenced by the fact that when other members, affiliated and non-affiliated with the EFFSC, sought to raise subsequent points of order, the Chief Justice dismissed these points based on her initial ruling – her refusal to hear subsequent points of order for the time being. The debate concerning the issue at hand, was whether this ruling applied exclusively to that singular point of order or uniformly upon subsequent points of order. The Chief Justice, averred that the latter was indeed the case, however it is down to interpretation on whether the ruling the Chief Justice made can constitute as such in terms of rule 11(12). However, read together with section 11(3)(b) of the rules of student forum, the chief justice can delay addressing a point of order which has been recognised and thus justifying the rationale granting a temporary stay on subsequent points of order. However, this still raised issues on the consensus regarding the Chief Justice’s initial ruling. Finally, the reasoning the Chief Justice relied on was on the nature of her rulings in terms of rule 7, which cannot be argued out of. The manner in which the chief justice came to her conclusions were not inconsistent with the purport of the rules of the student forum when read in conjunction with one another, rather the application in practice left much to be desired and resulted in a series of harsh criticisms.
The presiding officer – Was she biased?
Among the criticisms levelled at the Chief Justice during the points of order, was the charge of bias, and there may be some merit behind this claim. PDBY can confirm that, there seemed to be a pathology adopted by the Chief Justice when recognising points of order raised by the factions in attendance. Points of order raised by members of SASCO, and the EFFSC was addressed, albeit against previous judgements, while only two points of order raised by DASO were heard and addressed the moment they were raised. Instead, the Chief Justice opted for points of order, not just DASOs, to be heard under the questions brought without notice. This left DASO member Liam Jacobs remarking, “I am disgusted, discombobulated and disappointed.” On this, vice-chair of DASO, Christo Pretorius, said, “we as DASO are disgusted and disappointed by the behaviour from the presiding officers for not recognising us since the beginning of the forum. We note that the Chief Justice needs to follow procedure, however they have consistently let the EFFSC disrupt and raise points of orders. This goes give the impression that there are some biases perhaps.” In addition, Pretorius said, “we simply wanted to raise a point of order in terms of rule 6 so that the Chief Justice would recognise their authority to speak without being interrupted.” In addition, Sibeko added, ” The presiding officer was all over the place. She quoted rules which contradict each other, and this is what happens when I guess no one can hold her to account. There is no rule in the Rules of Student Forum which says you cannot make a point of order. There is no rule that allows for that, not even read in conjunction with one another. You had members of the DA […] who had their hands raised for hours, but weren’t heard. It shows a lack of accountability and a lack of impartiality, you can’t have that in the office of the Chief Justice.” In giving the Chief Justice the benefit of the doubt, Sibeko was asked as to whether it is merely a drafting problem with the rules or whether the Chief Justice was indeed wrong in her application of the law. To this Sibeko says, “There can be amendments made in terms of the rules, [referring to rule 7] but it refers to minor amendments and not saying that no points of order can be made.” When asked to respond to the accusations of bias from members in attendance, the Chief Justice stated, “I went according to the rule set, so […] yeah.”
Constitutionality of the gathering – It dissolved here
Student forum was dissolved when the Residences portfolio holder, Erique Francis, decided to dissolve the proceedings and thus continue the trend of leaving 2022 Student Forums unfinished. On this, Sibeko says, “The SRC failed to account for what they have done throughout the quarter once again.” However, another concern raised during Student Forum was the limited attendance of the SRC portfolio, as only 8 out of 17* SRC members were in attendance. On this Sibeko commented, “This was a day that was set two weeks ago for student forum and there is a habit of SRC officers to avoid taking account for student forum […] how can I as a student believe that all these portfolios weren’t here and that they all have valid excuses?”
In conclusion, while the definitive reason for the forum ending prematurely was Francis’s departure, the continued debate over the presiding officers rulings may have equally contributed to the dissolution of the quarter four forum.
*Correction: The number of SRC members currently serving for the year 2022 is 17, not 16 as initially printed.
Originally posted on the PDBY website: Allegations of bias follow the collapse of the fourth quarter Student Forum