Wits academics affirm right to protest in response to threat of action

Wits academics affirm right to protest in response to threat of action

HIRED FORCE: The university hired private security in riot gear to evict protesting FeesMustFall students. Photo: Michelle Gumede

HIRED FORCE: The university hired private security in riot gear to evict protesting FeesMustFall students. Photo: Michelle Gumede

by Masego Panyane and Michelle Gumede

Academics have responded strongly to the statement issued by Wits stating that they should respect security protocols as laid out by private security companies or risk facing the chop.

Last week Wits issued a statement to staff members warning them about violating “security protocols” related to fees protests with possible termination.

“Some staff members have also tried to breach security protocols. We want to remind staff that the decision to bring additional security onto campus is an executive decision and that any member of staff who violates the University’s security protocols will be jeopardising the safety and security of our campus and thereby violating their own conditions of service,” read the statement.

The Academic Staff Association of Wits University (Asawu) released a statement saying academics are allowed to protest but “this right to protest is not, however, unfettered.” The conditions are stipulated by the Regulation of Gatherings Act.

According to the statement, protests no larger than 15 people do not require prior permission while those with 16 or more participants do require it. However, an exception to this rule can be made for “spontaneous protest”.

“Its very spontaneity is a defense against liability for failing to give prior notice and seeking prior permission,” reads the statement.

 

The union has also shown displeasure at the amount of security personnel on campus that has been called in to stop the  protesting students. It highlights in its statement that some institutions received orders from the government to increase the security on its campuses during this registration period. Asawu says it is concerned  by the apparent interference of the government in tertiary institutions and that this threatens autonomy and academic freedom of universities.

Asawu has called for patience and understanding of its members and students during this time saying: “Patience, understanding and tolerance is going to be required as will our unstinting commitment to non-violence, academic freedom and the autonomy of our institution as we work together as academics, students and broader society to realize our shared vision of access to free education.”

Asawu’s statement also follows an open letter sent to academics by  Vice Chancellor Adam Habib that he wrote to the academic staff who have complained about the use of private security in response to fees protests this month.

“The current strategy of shutting down the university is, in our view, detrimental to the task of building a transformed and academically excellent institution,” wrote Habib.

The open letter addresses issues such as the consequences of postponement of registration, protecting the rights of all and what Habib said was “complacency” of some regarding violence or the threat of it within protests.

“I will never remain silent and allow a culture of violence and ungovernability to prevail within an institution of learning. I will never remain silent when a university and its learning project is being sacrificed to broader political goals, however attractive they may be,” Habib wrote in the letter.

The Anthropology Department’s Dr Kelly Gillespie was a part of a group of academics who took to Facebook to voice their displeasure, accusing the university of “very good at spinning image” while bringing heavy-handed security guards onto campus.

“As far as we know, never in the history of the university has this type of securitisation been used on campus. Even during the darkest days of the apartheid regime, the university was maintained as a space for the free expression of protest, ideas and critique. Habib thus goes down in history as the VC to bring down this kind of disproportionate repressive security detail onto the space of our campus. Nothing he says can take that fact away. No amount of resuscitation of his anti-apartheid history will obscure it. It will always mark his history at Wits,” Gillespie wrote.

 

 

 

 

 

Business as usual for SRC amid fees protests

Business as usual for SRC amid fees protests

GLASS HOUSES: Frat House on the West Campus with the SRC logo. Photo: Masego Panyane

GLASS HOUSES: Frat House on the West Campus with the SRC logo. Photo: Masego Panyane

The Wits Student Representative Council (SRC) is not participating in the current fees protests, #FMF2016, on campus.

“SRC is continuing with its normal governing procedures, which includes helping students with accommodation and planning for O- week,” said Mzwanele Ntshwanti, projects, media and campaigns officer of Wits SRC.

Students of the #WitsFMF movement have been protesting for fee free education since January 4. On Monday January 11, Wits management hired private security guards in riot gear to come patrol the main campus and to protect university property. Last week the department of higher education held a meeting in Tembisa with SRC from various campuses including Wits. Some student representatives walked out of the meeting.

Yesterday, Wits University and the Wits SRC issued a joint statement in response to the fees protests:

—————–

Management and SRC agreement

Wits University Management and the Wits Students’ Representative Council have reached agreement on a range of issues that are summarised here:

1. Free education: The University and the SRC commit to the realisation of free education as the ultimate goal for all students who qualify academically and who cannot afford it.

2. First payment: Students who cannot afford the first fee payment prior to enrolment/registration will still be allowed to register by filling in a form via the self-service portal (https://self-service.wits.ac.za).

a. There will be no interest on the first fee payment for those who have indicated that they cannot afford the first payment.
b. The University will provide the SRC with data on the number of students who have filled in the first payment form.
c. No student will be financially excluded during the academic year because they are unable to make their first payment.

3. Insourcing Task Team: The University agreed to more frequent reporting from the Insourcing Task Team. The next communique from the Insourcing Task Team will include information on the progress on the minimum wage demand. The University agreed that it was of utmost urgency for Council to make a decision between the proposed R4 500 and R5 000.

4. Funding for workers’ children: Workers’ children who have qualified for admission to the University and to residence will receive a full package, including tuition and accommodation.

5. General Assembly: The University commits to initiating, during the first block and upon the return of all students, the processes necessary for holding a General Assembly.

6. Safety and security: In securing and providing safety and security to the University community, police should not use undue force that violates any human rights. The University and students need to find a non-violent and amicable way of resolving issues.

7. Progression status: The University agrees that students will be able to know their progression status, regardless of whether they have outstanding debt. The University also agrees to advance students being able to view their progress report/unofficial transcript throughout the year, regardless of whether they have outstanding debt.

8. Food security: Student Affairs commits to working with the SRC on addressing the issue of food insecurity on campus. There is currently a University project to address food insecurity of which the SRC is a part.

9. NSFAS appeals: Outcomes of NSFAS appeals will be given immediately after each meeting of the appeals committee.

10. FASO: The University reaffirms the commitment that there should be accountability, efficiency and consistency within the Financial Aid and Scholarships Office (FASO). FASO is already undergoing a review process.

11. English: The University agrees to engage on the matter of students with good APS scores and exceptional marks being allowed to appeal.

12. Communication with prospective students: The University commits to communicating with prospective students who may have had difficulties with registering during the two days of registration shut-down.

13. Debt management: The University commits to providing the SRC with data to substantiate the need for state intervention on debt clearance for the missing middle.

a. All students who owe the University between R1 and R1 000 as at 31 December 2015 will be allowed to register in 2016. The outstanding debt for 2015 will be rolled over to 2016. The University estimates that this concession will benefit 3 607 students this year.
b. All students who can show that they are fully funded for 2016 will be allowed to register. They will have to sign an acknowledgement of debt for fees owed in 2015.
c. The University will work with the SRC to raise funds to clear the debt of approximately 1 284 students who owe the University between R1 001 and R5 000 (as at 31 December 2015). If this effort is successful, these students will then be allowed to register in 2016.
d. The SRC and the University will approach the provincial government to cover the debt of about 1 418 students who owe the University between R5 001 and R20 000 (as at 31 December 2015). If these efforts are successful, these students will be allowed to register for the 2016 academic year.

14. Residence fees and Food Security: Residence fees have not been increased, in line with the agreement on the zero percent fee increases. However, meal costs have increased.

The University will require about 24 hours to adjust its administrative processes to accommodate this agreement and we ask all students to be patient during this period.

Please bring any concerns or issues to the attention of the Registrar viaregistar@wits.ac.za so that they can be addressed timeously.

We trust that these arrangements will go a long way towards enabling the majority of our students to register for 2016 without hindrance.

We thank all staff members and students for your patience during this difficult period.

Statement: Wits management say they have reached an agreement with SRC

Statement: Wits management say they have reached an agreement with SRC

Photo: Tendai Dube

Photo: Tendai Dube

Wits University Management and the Wits Students’ Representative Council have reached agreement on a range of issues that are summarised here:

1. Free education: The University and the SRC commit to the realisation of free education as the ultimate goal for all students who qualify academically and who cannot afford it.

2. First payment: Students who cannot afford the first fee payment prior to enrolment/registration will still be allowed to register by filling in a form via the self-service portal (https://self-service.wits.ac.za).

a. There will be no interest on the first fee payment for those who have indicated that they cannot afford the first payment.
b. The University will provide the SRC with data on the number of students who have filled in the first payment form.
c. No student will be financially excluded during the academic year because they are unable to make their first payment.

3. Insourcing Task Team: The University agreed to more frequent reporting from the Insourcing Task Team. The next communique from the Insourcing Task Team will include information on the progress on the minimum wage demand. The University agreed that it was of utmost urgency for Council to make a decision between the proposed R4 500 and R5 000.

4. Funding for workers’ children: Workers’ children who have qualified for admission to the University and to residence will receive a full package, including tuition and accommodation.

5. General Assembly: The University commits to initiating, during the first block and upon the return of all students, the processes necessary for holding a General Assembly.

6. Safety and security: In securing and providing safety and security to the University community, police should not use undue force that violates any human rights. The University and students need to find a non-violent and amicable way of resolving issues.

7. Progression status: The University agrees that students will be able to know their progression status, regardless of whether they have outstanding debt. The University also agrees to advance students being able to view their progress report/unofficial transcript throughout the year, regardless of whether they have outstanding debt.

8. Food security: Student Affairs commits to working with the SRC on addressing the issue of food insecurity on campus. There is currently a University project to address food insecurity of which the SRC is a part.

9. NSFAS appeals: Outcomes of NSFAS appeals will be given immediately after each meeting of the appeals committee.

10. FASO: The University reaffirms the commitment that there should be accountability, efficiency and consistency within the Financial Aid and Scholarships Office (FASO). FASO is already undergoing a review process.

11. English: The University agrees to engage on the matter of students with good APS scores and exceptional marks being allowed to appeal.

12. Communication with prospective students: The University commits to communicating with prospective students who may have had difficulties with registering during the two days of registration shut-down.

13. Debt management: The University commits to providing the SRC with data to substantiate the need for state intervention on debt clearance for the missing middle.

a. All students who owe the University between R1 and R1 000 as at 31 December 2015 will be allowed to register in 2016. The outstanding debt for 2015 will be rolled over to 2016. The University estimates that this concession will benefit 3 607 students this year.
b. All students who can show that they are fully funded for 2016 will be allowed to register. They will have to sign an acknowledgement of debt for fees owed in 2015.
c. The University will work with the SRC to raise funds to clear the debt of approximately 1 284 students who owe the University between R1 001 and R5 000 (as at 31 December 2015). If this effort is successful, these students will then be allowed to register in 2016.
d. The SRC and the University will approach the provincial government to cover the debt of about 1 418 students who owe the University between R5 001 and R20 000 (as at 31 December 2015). If these efforts are successful, these students will be allowed to register for the 2016 academic year.

14. Residence fees and Food Security: Residence fees have not been increased, in line with the agreement on the zero percent fee increases. However, meal costs have increased.

The University will require about 24 hours to adjust its administrative processes to accommodate this agreement and we ask all students to be patient during this period.

Please bring any concerns or issues to the attention of the Registrar via registar@wits.ac.za so that they can be addressed timeously.

We trust that these arrangements will go a long way towards enabling the majority of our students to register for 2016 without hindrance.

We thank all staff members and students for your patience during this difficult period.

Senior Executive Team

– See more at: http://www.wits.ac.za/news/latest-news/general-news/2016/feesmustfall2016/statements/management-and-src-agreement.html#sthash.quNwJG4E.dpuf

Statement by Gauteng Vice-Chancellors on current #FeesMustFall protests

STATEMENT POST THE PRESS BRIEFING HELD BY GAUTENG VICE-CHANCELLORS

We, the vice-chancellors of all Gauteng-based universities today appeal to all students, academics, professional and administrative staff and parents to do everything within their power to ensure a smooth start to the academic year and to underline the importance of tertiary education as the foremost route to empowerment for individuals, families and communities.

Our job as universities is the empowerment of the next generation of leaders for the South African economy, society and governance through academic study leading to concrete, sought after qualifications. As the universities in South Africa’s economic heartland, we are aware of our responsibility to ensure that learning, teaching and research can continue uninterrupted through the 2016 academic year, and we are appealing to all associated with the universities to make their contributions to achieving the same goal.

We unequivocally support the call for access to quality higher education for all as enshrined in the Constitution. We are uncompromising in our determination to defend the right of all students to a quality education, regardless of their economic or social standing. This is necessary if we are to realise a democratic, non-racial, non-sexist and economically and socially inclusive society.

The absolute condition for our universities is to be able to play a role in the transformation of society and the empowerment of individuals for learning, teaching, and research to take place unhindered. Damage to university property can never be a solution and only contributes to disempowering those most dependent on university facilities such as libraries, laboratories, and administration.

We remain completely committed to the dialogue with our students which started last year as we together search for the long-term solutions to the challenges facing higher education. The appointment of the Presidential Commission of Inquiry gives all of us – academics, students, administrators, and parents the framework within which we can seek concrete solutions which are both workable in practice, and acceptable to all.

Government, under the leadership of President Jacob Zuma and Minister Blade Nzimande, supported by vice-chancellors, has made huge strides in addressing the issues and challenges facing universities.

Following the report and recommendations from the Presidential Task Team on Funding for Higher Education, a total amount of almost R17 billion has been committed by government to support universities in managing the 0% fee increase in 2016, and addressing NSFAS shortfalls and outstanding student debt. In an environment of fiscal restraint, this is an exceptional achievement.

Universities, in turn, have also put in place our own institutional mechanisms to mobilise additional funds and to enhance support to financially needy students and their parents, in order to create better access to higher education.

We realise that many challenges remain, particularly for the so-called ‘missing middle’ group of students who are unable to access NSFAS funding, and who find it difficult to pay their own way. We are doing everything in our power to support this group in the short-term, and are working with government to improve this support in the medium and long-term.

The current funding model is based on fees. There are many other ways of funding higher education and it is possible that the Presidential Commission may recommend a new model in the long-term.

We are deeply concerned with the recent disruptions and violent protests linked to student registration processes at some of our institutions. In most cases, these sporadic but sometimes violent events had been led by a small group of students. In some instances, they have been supported by the employees of service providers contracted by our universities.

We are however aware that the vast majority of students – actively encouraged by their parents – are keen for the academic year to get underway. All we are asking is for these students to be allowed to get on with it while we move forward with a common agenda to resolve the issues of access and finance that we face.

We call on all sectors of society, including parents, churches and civil society, to mediate, and to work with us to ensure that the higher education sector does not suffer long-term damage. In particular, we call on the leadership of all political parties to demonstrate leadership and ensure that their supporters work towards stabilising the system. Our higher education sector is one of the best functioning sectors on the continent, which we as a country cannot afford to destroy. Our students certainly cannot afford to lose a year because a minority is determined to disrupt teaching and learning.

All members of the university community have the right to protest but such protest must respect the constitutional rights of others to access higher education institutions, in order to learn and work.

Any attempt to disturb the smooth running of the universities as they gear up for the new academic year should be rejected by anyone interested in the broadest possible access to higher learning as a route to transformation and intergenerational empowerment in our country. As places of research, innovation, learning and teaching which rest upon the fundamental premise that universities must always be a place of open debate, the Gauteng-based universities will continue to take all necessary steps to ensure the safety, security, and freedom of movement and debate of all our people.

This means that we will also ensure that anything which can endanger students, staff and the buildings will be prevented.

We urgently appeal to all students and other role-players to respect the rights of others to access our universities, to act responsibly through constructive engagement, and to desist from any form of violent or disruptive protest action, which places our community and facilities at risk, and jeopardises the entire higher education system in its task of empowering the next generation and the country.

This statement is issued by the vice-chancellors and rectors of the public universities in Gauteng.

Academic staff respond to presence of private security on campus

Following the presence of private security on campus during the #FeesMustFall2016 protests, concerned members of the Wits Academic staff community wrote a plea to Vice Chancellor Adam Habib to request that he to terminate the university’s contracts with these companies. The statement is re-produced below in full:

Dear academic colleagues

We are writing to ask for you to take a moment to respond to a grave threat that has been issued against academic staff at Wits University in Johannesburg: a threat which sets a worrying trend for times to come for all of us who teach at universities.

The backdrop is the militarisation of our university in the last few days in response to student protest. Private security forces which by appearance earn the label paramilitary have been brought onto our campus under undisclosed contracts and terms of engagement, in order to quell the sorts of protests that led successfully last year to a national agreement not to increase student fees for 2016. The South African student movement continues to fight for a fully publicly funded higher education system, but this year their planned protests have been pre-empted by the extraordinary act of using paramilitary forces to prevent disruption of the start of the academic year. We attach a few photos here to give an indication of what this means for the conduct of our everyday lives on our own university campus. We now work in a condition of occupation.

To come to the point of this request: on Friday this week the university sent an email that included a warning to staff that any resistance to the dictates of these private security forces amounts to a violation of our own terms of employment. This is a thinly veiled threat to discipline and potentially fire academic staff who refuse to recognise the authority of private security forces on the grounds of what still remains a public institution. This is a disgraceful act of intimidation against the rights of staff to peacefully protest the current structure of higher education in South Africa, as well as the occupation of our campus by paramilitary forces that, in at least one case — the company TSU Africa — have direct links to the repressive apparatus of the discredited apartheid regime.

Before the other materials mentioned, I copy below a statement that has been posted on social media, addressing South African colleagues. I urge you to read it, and if you are in agreement, to send an email of protest to our Vice-Chancellor, Prof. Adam Habib, at the address adam.habib@wits.ac.za. Please ask him (a) to rescind this threat against our colleagues, (b) to remove all private security forces from our campus, and (c) to enter into earnest negotiations with relevant parties to see how the university community can offer a united front in the struggle for a publicly funded higher education system in South Africa. Please also circulate this email to other colleagues who might be supportive.

Your solidarity at this difficult time is one of the most important assets we have at our disposal. Concerned academic staff are meeting in the coming week on campus and we may also ask you to sign a petition on this issue. In the meantime, your personal intervention by writing a short message to our Vice Chancellor would be a most welcome contribution to the attempt to de-escalate this gravely worrying moment.

With many thanks to for your solidarity.

Concerned Wits faculty and staff

The Vice Chancellor on behalf of the university’s executive has since responded to this plea. See the response here