Campaign timeline – universities
UCT campaign summary: Victory
- 2022: In March 2022, after eight years of campaigning, UCT committed to divestment. By November, the University had already commenced the process of implementation.
- 2021: The University officially launches the university panel on responsible investment (UPRI), with an initial focus on fossil fuel divestment, and calls for public submissions on how it should handle its investments in fossil fuels.
- 2020: Numerous academics, students, school pupils and NGOs write to the new Council urging divestment. The University Panel on Responsible Investment hears the case for divestment directly for the first time. Convocation votes for a third time in favour of divestment. VC Prof Phakeng indicates again that UCT has accepted divestment in principle, but as yet there are no signs of implementation.
- 2019: Representatives of the UCT Retirement Fund attend our workshop on ‘Climate-Proofing Retirement Funds’. After a year without any visible action from the university, we pass a second motion to Convocation calling on the University to divest.
- 2018: The Fossil Free UCT campaign, including the Green Campus Initiative and Climate Action Project, submit testimony on why UCT should divest to the Institutional Reconciliation and Transformation Commission. We meet for the first time with new Vice Chancellor Dr Mamokgethi Phakeng, and hand over our petition again. She indicates the university has accepted the principle of divestment.
- 2017: UCT’s Convocation, the gathering of all alumni and faculty, votes overwhelmingly in support of UCT divesting from oil, gas and coal. A UCT divestment think tank meeting is co-hosted by UCT vice chancellor Dr Max Price, Pro Vice Chancellor for Climate Change Mark New and the Climate Action Project. The UCT Council approves a responsible investment policy, based on the work of the ethical investment task team, that creates the framework for formal institutional consideration of issues such as divestment.
- 2016: Our petition for UCT to divest is handed over to Dr Price in person by students.
- 2015: The UCT Council appoints an ethical investment task team to look into divestment and related ethical investment issues. Former Vice Chancellor Dr Max Price meets with us and May Boeve, leader of the global climate movement 350.org.
- 2014: We launch our campaign on campus, with endorsement by Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu. Former UCT Chancellor Graça Machel says at the UN Climate Summit in New York: ‘You must have the courage to tell business that it is not only about the profits but about our collective survival and wellbeing.’
- 2013: Nine staff, students and alumni write to the then-UCT finance director urging divestment.
May 11: Fossil Free SA presents the case for divestment to the UCT leadership lekgotla, at the invitation of the Vice Chancellor. Students protest on campus in support of the UPRI making the strongest possible recommendations for divestment.
December 9: At the 2020 meeting of the UCT Convocation, for the third time, we won our motion in favour of divestment. Our candidate for Convocation President, Yvette Abrahams, was voted down. UCT Vice-Chancellor, Prof Mamokgethi Phakeng, did indicate that the divestment principle has now been accepted by university management, and that all that awaits is implementation. She even mentioned possible collaboration with Fossil Free SA.
October 21: We present the case for divestment to the University Panel on Responsible Investment, and argue that UCT should adopt a climate emergency investment plan. The response is positive, but we are advised that Council will only consider recommendations on divestment in September 2021.
September: Academics, students, Cape Town school pupils and NGOs write to the newly appointed UCT Council urging divestment.
August 13: Two asset managers send letters of intent to the UCT Retirement Fund expressing their willingness to manage fossil-free ESG funds, should the RF decide to invest along those lines.
August 11: For the first time, UCT News publishes an article on the university’s moves towards socially responsible investment, giving full credit to the role played by Fossil Free UCT/SA.
May: Together with members of the UCT Green Campus Initiative, we had an online meeting with the UCT Vice Chancellor and members of the UCT University Panel on Responsible Investment in May, asking them to divert a small portion of UCT’s investments to help establish fossil-free funds in SA. They said no. They also refused our requests to make our case directly to Council and the JIC. We pressed them repeatedly on the issue of climate urgency, but the most they were prepared to commit to was for the UPRI to meet with us “sometime this year”.
December 12: We pass a second motion to Convocation calling on the University to divest.
November: Second motion on divestment proposed for the meeting of Convocation 12 December. Commence engagement with the chair of the University Panel on Responsible Investment (a body created as a consequence of our activism).
August: Five representatives of the UCT Retirement Fund attend our workshop on ‘Climate-Proofing Retirement Funds’. (Note: most of our UCT campaign has been focused on the university endowment; the RF is an independent and separate fund.)
May: UCT finance director Ashley Francis advises us that the University Panel on Responsible Investment has commenced its work, but is meeting only quarterly and unlikely to make any substantive recommendations before 2020. Fossil Free SA refers information on a proposed fossil free fund to UCT, which UCT asks asset consultants Towers Watson to screen.
5 November: Fossil Free UCT met with UCT’s new vice chancellor, Professor Mamokgethi Phakeng. Prof Phakeng indicated that the university has in essence accepted the principle of divestment, though it has yet to implement it. Read the meeting summary.
3 September: Representatives of Fossil Free UCT offered oral testimony to the UCT IRTC, building on our written submission.
3 September: First meeting with representatives of the UCT Pension Fund (which is administered independently of UCT).
15 August: Lunchtime panel discussion on climate change, renewable energy and fossil fuel divestment in Molly Blackburn Hall.
14 August: Green Campus Initiative/Fossil Free UCT documentary screening on campus.
25 June: The Fossil Free UCT campaign, including the Green Campus Initiative and Climate Action Project, submit testimony on why UCT should divest to the Institutional Reconciliation and Transformation Commission.
June: The University Panel for Responsible Investment meets for the first time, with plans to meet again in August and November.
January: UCT begins the process of appointing a university panel on responsible investment.
24 June: The UCT Council approves a responsible investment policy that creates the framework for formal institutional consideration of issues such as divestment.
15 May: UCT divestment think tank meeting co-hosted by UCT vice chancellor Dr Max Price, Pro Vice Chancellor for Climate Change Mark New and the Climate Action Project.
8-12 May: Students from the UCT Green Campus Initiative and Climate Action Project gather another 300 signatures in favour of UCT divesting during Global Divestment Mobilisation activities.
23 March: Fossil Free SA spoke at a UCT lunch-time seminar on divestment hosted by the Minerals to Metals research group in the faculty of chemical engineering.
2 March: UCT’s Convocation, the gathering of all alumni and faculty, votes overwhelmingly in support of UCT divesting from oil, gas and coal.
15 December: We propose a motion for UCT to divest at the annual meeting of Convocation (academics and alumni). The motion would not be binding, but would carry moral weight. The meeting of Convocation, however, is interrupted by the convergent strains of other tensions on campus, and is adjourned before our motion is considered. Convocation should be reconvened on 28 February, when we expect our motion to be considered again.
21 November: Three letters and petitions calling for UCT to divest were handed over to Vice Chancellor Dr Max Price in person by student members of the Climate Action Project and Green Campus Initiative.
September: Three UCT students attend a 350.org national student workshop on fossil fuel divestment in Johannesburg.
18 May: Fossil Free UCT attends the first 2016 meeting of the UCT Ethical Investment Task Team, which met to discuss a draft proposal for establishing a responsible investing framework for the university.
17 May: With the African Climate Development Initiative and Climate Action Project, we hold a seminar on UCT and fossil fuel divestment.
18 August: Fossil Free UCT participates in a meeting of the university’s ethical investment task team.
30 July: Masters students in the African Climate Development Initiative at UCT, with the ‘strong support’ of the Department of Environmental and Geographical Sciences, write to the university urging divestment.
12 May: Fossil Free UCT facilitates a meeting between May Boeve of 350.org, UCT Vice Chancellor Dr Max Price and member of the UCT investment task team.
11 May: Fossil Free UCT, with the Green Campus Initiative, hosts a talk by May Boeve, executive director of 350.org.
21 April: Fossil Free UCT supported a Divestment Dinner convened by students in the Department of Environmental and Geographical Sciences.
17 February: Fossil Free UCT meets with UCT Vice Chancellor Dr Max Price and colleagues. The VC informs us that our efforts initiated a process that has led to Council deciding to adopt an ethical investment strategy and to consider the issue of fossil fuel divestment. We are invited to join the task team that will be investigating the mechanics of ethical investment/divestment.
13 February: As part of international divestment day, Fossil Free UCT conducts small demonstrations at several locations on the UCT campus.
13 January: We receive news that the UCT Council has proposed an advisory committee to be established to advise on fossil fuel divestment and other ethical investment issues.
8 December: More than two months after writing to the administration, our requests for information from the university have so far been ignored.
5 November: UCT’s Joint Investment Committee meets. Fossil Free UCT has received no response to our letter of 30 September. We write again to UCT Council members, asking that the issue be considered, and circulate a detailed rationale for fossil fuel divestment.
7 October: 2nd lunchtime screening of Do the Math to 10 people.
1 October: The UCT Collective hosts a lunchtime forum to discuss fossil fuel divestment attended by around 30 people.
30 September: Second letter to UCT administration – requesting information about UCT’s investments and proposing expert engagement on the subject of divestment – is sent to Vice-Chancellor Dr Max Price. Lunchtime screening of the 350.org documentary, Do the Math, is attended by 20 people.
23 September: UCT Chancellor Graça Machel, speaking in a closing speech at the UN Climate Summit in New York, says: “You must have the courage to tell business that it is not only about the profits but about our collective survival and wellbeing.”
30 July: UCT campaign launch is attended by over 100 people.
18 July: Archbishop Desmond Tutu endorses our campaign for divestment at UCT.
5 July: Presentation on our campaign to the World Student Environment Network 2014 summit.
20 June: Presentation on our campaign at the Student Energy Summit 2014 at the Cape Peninsula University of Technology.
29 April: An oped calling for divestment is published in the student newspaper VARSITY.
10 April: Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu calls for a worldwide boycott of fossil fuel companies.
7 March: Fossil Free UCT meets with UCT finance director Enrico Uliana and financial accounting director Peter Grant.
5 November: Nine UCT faculty, staff, students and alumni write to UCT asking for information on its current fossil fuel investments, and suggesting divestment.