UCT commits to divestment

UCT students protest in favour of fossil fuel divestment, 11 March 2022. Pic: James Granelli.

Eight years after we first wrote to UCT asking for divestment, the university council decided on 12 March to divest. This was announced in the council minutes released on Friday, and News24 covered the story on Saturday; BusinessLive columnist Gray Maguire wrote about it today.

This is obviously a major, major milestone in our work. We are immensely grateful to the students of the Green Campus Initiative, and the thousands of people – students, academics, schoolchildren and other concerned stakeholders – who have supported directly, or signed petitions and written letters to the University urging that this step be taken. We thank the UCT Vice Chancellor, Professor Mamokgethi Phakeng, and the members of Council who supported this move.

While there have been other divestment commitments in South Africa (and we’ve heard recently of two foundations that have divested from Sasol), UCT is by far the largest institution to have done so. The long(!) institutional journey that the university has taken, and the detailed research and consultation on which its decision was based, makes the commitment all the more meaningful.

The journey ahead

Of course, we will have to monitor the implementation of this commitment, and continue to engage; in doing this, we can hopefully work alongside the university’s own responsible investment panel, the UPRI.

It has been argued that the university could move faster on the domestic equity front; and we remain frustrated that the anonymous UCT joint investment panel and foundation trustees continue to resist direct engagement with us, but for now, we are delighted with the win. It will lend strength to all our other work, particularly the Wits campaign that we are supporting. There are signs of a resurgent University of Stellenbosch campaign as well.

It felt significant that this announcement came just before the Human Rights Day long weekend; and on the same day as the announcement of a major court victory for environmental justice organisations challenging the government over its repeated failures to properly regulate air pollution in the Mpumalanga Highveld. Our firm congratulations go to the #DeadlyAir coalition of groundWork, Vukani Environmental Justice Movement in Action and the Centre for Environmental Rights.