Mandatory Vaccination Victory – University of Cape Town

UCT’s decision to open up consultations and back down on mandatory vaccinations, unpacked.

On Wednesday, 20 October, the UCT Vice Chancellor, Professor Mamokgethi Phakeng, announced that the institution’s mandatory vaccination policy would take effect from 1 January 2022. The UCT council approved this policy “in principle” at its meeting on 16 October 2021. In terms of the policy, students and staff would not be let onto the university premises without having been vaccinated. The proposed policy required:

(i) proof of vaccination with one of the approved COVID-19 vaccines or proof of valid exemption as a condition for employees, students, independent contractors, joint staff, students, to access UCT campus and buildings.

(ii) all UCT employees and students, independent contractors, joint staff who were required to come onto the UCT campus or be in contact with UCT staff and students or research participants would be required to provide proof of vaccination with one of the approved COVID-19 vaccines, or a valid exemption. The policy provides for employees and students to apply for an exemption to the vaccine mandate on narrow medical grounds and on grounds of sincerely and intensely held beliefs grounded in religion and/​or conscience.

All events that would be held on UCT campus or premises or building or residences, regardless of who organised them would also be covered by this policy.

Public Outcry

There was a huge outcry and pushback by the public. Both registered and incoming students were devastated, and parents were outraged by this decision. Although the UCT Council and management claimed to have consulted stakeholders, subsequent investigations revealed that there had not been adequate consultation. UCT’s so-called consultation process had been conducted through a random, unpublicised short survey on the issue. UCT claimed that an 83% majority of staff and students voted in favour of a mandatory vaccination policy.

Victory 1

UCT released a statement to state that it would open up its process to stakeholder-consultation and public comment between 21 December and 31 January, with a deadline for comments set for January 2022.

On Monday, 31 January 2022 the UCT Vice Chancellor released a statement to say that the UCT vaccine mandate panel, had proposed a mandatory vaccination policy for the institution and were currently consulting with the UCT community on this matter. Prof Phakeng advised that the University Council would make a final deliberation in early March in this regard. Unvaccinated students would be allowed to register until Council released its final policy.

Victory 2 – New UCT Policy

On 12 March, the UCT Council met to discuss the results of their consultations. One of the observations they made was that the vaccine was less effective at reducing transmission of the Omicron variant. The University, while still encouraging vaccination has taken the decision to implement a policy for voluntary, rather than mandatory vaccination. It was also decided that the declaration of one’s vaccination status must be on a voluntary basis. Council also took a decision to promote voluntary vaccination to all members of the UCT community.

UCT stated that it continued to support, in principle, a vaccine mandate policy, but agreed that this policy would not be implemented without having a special meeting of the council to consider any changing circumstance.

SIMUNYE, WE ARE ONE!

The Red List would like to appreciate the Children’s Health Defense (CHD) and the many other advocacy groups and activist individuals who communicated vigorously with and engaged UCT on the issue of lack of consultation and infringement of constitutional rights. It was this group effort that brought a major win for South Africa and has set a precedent and example for other universities to follow. CHD, in particular, invested a substantial amount of money to engage a team of lawyers that helped bring change to the UCT policy.

The Free State for Choice vs. UFS case begins on 23 March 2022. We sincerely hope that UFS and its sister universities, such as WITS, Stellenbosch, University of Johannesburg, and others will take an example from UCT and the University of Venda and drop their vaccine mandates, medical apartheid, and discriminatory practices.

Pearl Kupe
Legal Spokesperson
The Red List