The lobby group Higher Education Transformation Network (HETN) on Wednesday made measurable progress in its court battle against the University of Pretoria, following a judgment that a matter between the two can be heard in the Equality Court.

The HETN has challenged the slow pace of racial change in the governing structures of the university.

Acting chief magistrate Daniel Thulare ruled in favour of the HETN at the Pretoria Magistrate’s Court. The university and its alumni board argued that the Equality Court does not have jurisdiction to hear the matter brought to it by the network earlier this year. The Tuks council, the highest governance, should also join as a respondent, ordered Thulare.

Thulare said the complaint that the university, together with its council and the Tuks Alumni Association, “are failing to take steps to reasonably accommodate the needs of blacks, women and the disabled, in order to meet the need to redress the imbalances of the past to achieve representation”, should be heard in the Equality Court.

Lucky Thekisho, chairperson of the predominantly black organisation, described the ruling as a “preliminary victory” for them.

“We are relieved and encouraged to note that contrary to the arguments presented by the UP and Tuks Alumni Board, that the Equality Court has agreed with our contentions and re-established the supremacy of the Constitution of the [country], the need for transformation and equality in higher education,” he said.

“We knew that we shall prevail against the might of the University of Pretoria. This battle for transformation has just begun,” said Thekisho.

Way forward
Tuks spokesperson Nicolize Mulder told the Mail & Guardian the judgment had nothing to do with merits of the network’s claims. Declining to comment further, she said: “

From our side, it was merely a direction hearing to determine where the case should go from here.”

After a long-standing, bitter racial battle for control of the university, the litigation was triggered by the election of AfriForum member Willie Spies into the university’s council late last year.

HETN wants court to compel Tuks to re-run this election and declare invalid the university’s election rules, policies and regulations.

A date for the hearing will soon be set. “We remain confident that we will attain victory in the overall outcome of the case and that justice will take its course for the benefit of the broader society,” said Thekisho. 

By  Mail & Guardian