Student bodies have united to say no to higher learning institutions compelling students to vaccinate for COVID-19. They say the move will violate students’ constitutional rights.

This comes as higher education institutions are debating whether to make vaccinations mandatory.

The implementation of a mandatory vaccination policy by higher learning institutions is on the cards. The pandemic has disrupted learning and forced higher education institutions to move to online classes.

The drive to mass vaccination is seen as a positive one that will ultimately lead to the re-introducton of one-on-one classes. But student formations say no students should be forced to vaccinate.

South African Union of Students’  Asive Dlanjwa says, “Universities must not be lazy, they must engage students intellectually and show them the scientific and the medical benefit of vaccinating. They must not force it and coerce them, contravening their constitutional rights. So I think that is our stance with that, and by the way even the government, government is not at the point where it says citizens should be vaccinating mandatorily. These are public institutions. Why would they define themselves outside the general protocol and the understanding that government has with society at large, we saying there’s absolutely no place for it.”

SASCO in the Free State says their position on vaccination is clear and simple. It says it supports government’s position that vaccination is voluntary and not mandatory.

Provincial Coordinator of SASCO in the Free State Mthuthuzeli Bidi says,” We are dismayed as SASCO as to why do these universities want to impose this thing. We encourage all students across the province and across the country, across the world to go vaccinate in their numbers because as far as SASCO is concerned, vaccine is proven to save lives. So we also urge universities to persuade students scientifically and not want to impose this vaccine on them, because we support regulations of national government.”

UFS SRC President Jerry Thoka, says South Africa is a democratic country, and universities and colleges are no different.

“Mandatory aspect of the vaccine is not yet there, all institutions should be following that line of march, all institutions should not be considering as yet, attempting to make the vaccination mandatory. At this point in time we should employ measures of persuasion as we do with everyone in the country currently. Even the President moves in the direction of persuading the citizens of the country, so I think institutions of higher learning should exhaust that direction first.”

Legal expert, Rupert Candy recently said that the South African government will have a battle on its hands to protect workers from mandatory vaccines. He believes the rights of businesses often outweigh workers’ constitutional rights.

Candy reacting to growing concerns that most companies are implementing mandatory vaccines, while some workers do not want to be vaccinated.

The issue of mandatory vaccines:

Spokesperson for the Central University of Technology (CUT) Dan Maritz says vaccination is in the best interest of the university. Maritz says the CUT supports calls that everyone should vaccinate, but the constitutional rights of students should not be tampered with.

“The position of the university regarding the vaccination, as we know the Section 12 of the constitution under correction, says that nobody should be forced into any scientific or medical experimentation without prior consent. That in a sense that’s the right we cannot take for ourselves as a university. However, we are in the process of engaging with our stakeholders, to ensure that we are able to maximise the participation of our students and staff in this drive.”

The University of the Free State says it’s developing a vaccination policy that will be released soon.

The university’s Vice-Chancellor Professor Francis Peterson says, “The policy will balance the constitutional right of the individual and the directors of occupational health and safety legislation, which requires an employee to take all these steps to ensure a safe working environment. This includes minimising the risk of exposing staff and students to infection.”

Meanwhile, the Motheo TVET College says the turnout of students and staff for vaccinations has been positive.

“It would be difficult for us to say whether it should be mandatory or not, but the current state is that it is not mandatory. But however as a college, we are encouraging our students to take the vaccination, in fact, we have identified one of our campuses in Thaba-nchu as a vaccination site. We are receiving a very positive response from our staff and our students. The statistics is that 50 percent currently of our students, has taken first vaccination.”

As the debate about mandatory vaccination rages on, some companies are already gearing up to make it compulsory for employees to take the vaccine.