The University of Cape Town (UCT) says that the interdict it applied for and was granted on Monday to stop students gathering on campus was not designed to suppress freedom of expression.
On Monday evening, UCT filed for and was granted an interdict at the Western Cape High Court which contained a list of respondents who are forbidden from protesting at UCT unless they make representation at the High Court for permission to do so. Among parties named in the interdict as respondents, which included Sasco UCT, Pasma UCT and UCT Left Movement Students. Unusually, the interdict also included the popular hashtag #FeesMustFall.
By including the hashtag alongside real organisations, UCT and the court which granted the interdict may have overstepped their reach by placing a restriction on free speech. According to Jane Duncan, Professor of Journalism at the University of Johannesburg, the inclusion of the hashtag could make criminals of anyone who uses it.
In a media release this morning, vice chancellor Dr Max Price said that the University will now apply to have the interdict lifted.
“While I believe the interdict on Monday was an appropriate and necessary action to take at that time, it has been misunderstood to be a charge against individuals and organisations,” Price said, “Whereas it is in fact only a requirement that people act lawfully. It has also become encumbered with connotations of brutality and police action. This was certainly not intended, as its purpose was to protect the rights of those writing exams and wishing to access the campus. I believe that it is possible to propose lifting the interdict (it is actually imposed and lifted by a court, not by the University) as an act of good faith…”
So far, however, UCT has not addressed the ramifications that naming a hashtag in an interdict as a respondent can have on freedom of expression. According to a spokesperson, the hashtag was listed as it appeared on fliers distributed around campus and was therefore taken to be an organisation.