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

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

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

VC’s open letter: Response to concerns about private security on campus

This statement was released on January 17, in response to academic staff raising concerns over the intense private security presence on campus.

Dear Colleagues

 

I write to you in my capacity as Vice-Chancellor and Principal, with the full support of the Senior Executive Team (SET).

 

In the past week, some of you have bluntly expressed concerns in public and directly to me about the decision of the Senior Executive Team to bring private security onto campus. For those of you who have raised these concerns, please allow me the privilege of being as bold and blunt in my response, in the interests of identifying the options that are available to us as a university community. Please also forgive me for the length of my reply, but I do think that it is necessary for everyone to comprehensively understand from where we are coming.

 

One of you has suggested that you cannot understand why we would have brought private security and police to the university. It would have been useful – perhaps even necessary – for this person to have determined this before pronouncing so categorically on our decision, and attempting to begin a global campaign on the issue. Nevertheless, let me provide some details. On Monday this past week a small group of students were not simply peacefully protesting and dissenting. Instead, they were actively preventing registration from taking place. They were abusive of people, threatening them, and in some cases people were locked up in their offices. There was one male protester who told a female staff member that he knows where she lives and will take her out. In addition, I received a number of written requests, including one from a student leader expressing fear about being violently targeted by the protesters. These actions represented ‘violations of rights’ and the abuse of other members of our university community. These actions and countless others by the protesters forced us to bring an end to face-to-face registration.

 

Consequences of postponement of registration

Let me explain the net effect of stopping the registration process. We have two forms of registration, online and face-to-face, with telephone registration as a back-up to be instituted when required. Forcing us to cancel face-to-face registration adversely affected the poorest of those who wanted to register. Online registration enabled the middle and upper middle classes to continue with the process. They have online facilities and they have credit cards. They were not adversely affected, even if some may have been slightly inconvenienced. But the old man from Limpopo, who scraped whatever monies he could raise from family, friends and his community to ensure that his grandson registered, was severely impacted. He and his grandson travelled for hours, only to be told that he could not register because some group of activists had decided that they would shut down registration unless all historic debt had been cancelled and free education immediately granted. There were many such people on that day, and there were many more throughout the week. All attempts to get protesters to allow the registration to proceed came to naught.

 

Protecting the rights of all

Were this grandfather and his grandson, as well as the countless others, not victims? Do they not require our sympathy and outrage? Do they not require our best institutional support to register and embark on an academic career? I have heard some academics express unhappiness at our use of private security both now and at the end of last year, but I have never heard any of these same academics express public outrage at the violation of the rights of others – whether those be the staff member whose life is threatened, the ill staff member who could not make a doctor’s appointment to obtain medication for a life threatening disease, or other student leaders who have been threatened and now feel silenced and unsafe. Are these not also members of our University community? Do we decide to ignore them simply because they do not carry the correct ideological line? Maybe it has to do with the fact that these individuals do not figure prominently within our networks or community, from whom we draw political affirmation. Is this why some of us are not concerned about their rights?

 

For those who have raised the security concerns, the challenge that we believe you need to consider is: how would you have enabled the grandfather from Limpopo to register his grandson? How else would you have protected the staff members and students that were being harassed and threatened? In fact, we are aware that some concluded in private conversations that took place regarding the security arrangements that they did not know what should be done and had no alternatives to suggest. Nevertheless, they still remain opposed to the security arrangements that have been made. The net effect of this position is that the poor student must be denied the right to register, and that the interests of staff and students who have been threatened should be ignored.

 

We are aware that this view is reflected by a minority of our academic colleagues only. The vast majority of our academic and professional and administrative staff have expressed support for our actions and we have the emails and correspondence to prove this. We know the typical response to this: they are seen as conservatives, opposed to the transformation of the University. Is this response not a tad arrogant? Should we allocate ourselves the right to label all those we disagree with as conservatives? And even if they are conservatives, why should their rights not be protected by the university like those of all others?

 

Decisions around security arrangements

I want to assure you that we did not make the security arrangements lightly. I understand the disempowerment that one experiences from security arrangements that are outside of one’s control. I probably understand this more than many colleagues because I personally experienced what it meant to be imprisoned under state of emergency conditions. I experienced what it meant to be in solitary confinement, to be interrogated and to feel the fear that you may not see your loved ones again. I understand what it means to be deported by a foreign government without any just cause, or to be strip-searched in an airport in another country. I understand about being disempowered by arbitrary security actions. Other colleagues on the executive have had similar harsh experiences. Professor Tawana Kupe lived in Zimbabwe and has an acute understanding of the arbitrary use of power. Professor Zeblon Vilakazi grew up in Katlehong and has very real personal experiences of arbitrary violence. This is why we collectively would not make decisions like this lightly.

 

I also want to assure those who are concerned that claims that security assaulted students are untrue. We have viewed the video footage of last week’s events and we have not found anything that supports these claims. On the contrary, there is video footage in which students can be seen to be engaging in threatening activities against security.
Many have asked why private security was brought in and not public order policing? The answer is simple: public order police would have immediately required a court order to become operational on campus. More importantly, once they are invited onto campus, one is not allowed to limit their operations or influence their tactics and strategies. With private security, such limitations can be imposed. We have insisted that no guns must be used in any operations. We therefore decided to deploy private security on campus, with public order police on standby. For those who were worried about this arrangement, would they have preferred that we brought the public order police onto campus immediately? Would that not have allowed for the use of rubber bullets and other actions as have happened in other university settings in recent weeks? Or would they have preferred that we simply have no one, and deny protection to both the staff members and students who were threatened and the grandfather from Limpopo who wanted to register his grandson?
Some may ask why we did not use our own campus security? This answer is also simple: they are not sufficiently trained for this scale of protest. We could bring in a more adequately trained campus security team but do we truly want a ‘militarised’ campus all year round when this scale of security and protection is not required? Does it not make sense to use the campus security that we have – perhaps more efficient and better trained – and bring in the enhanced security arrangements as and when they are required? This was the case this week and given this, we simply cannot accede to the request of some to remove our security arrangements, at least until we are guaranteed that registration will continue without disruption and that the safety and security of all staff and students will not be threatened.
Some of you have also requested that we should publish the contracts with the security companies, including the associated financial costs. We are not averse to making these contracts available at the appropriate time given that we are a public university. This information should be received bearing in mind that we have to balance our expenses on security with the academic, financial and reputational consequences of not having had any. It is also worth noting that a significant portion of the associated costs of our security arrangements may be covered by our insurance cover.

 

Complacency around violence

I should perhaps sign off now that I have responded to the immediate issues, but I beg your indulgence to also raise some related matters. Many academics, now and before, have been involved in solidarity actions around the student and worker protests. This is legitimate and should be respected and valued at a university such as Wits. All of these individuals have also been critical of the executive’s decisions around the management of this protest and our willingness to accede to the demands. Again this is their right. At some point we need to engage on how we understand social action and how social outcomes are realised; the balance to be struck between protest and institutional engagement; the necessity of trade-offs and who should be responsible for these; and our response on the rise of racial essentialism within the midst of the protesting community. But those are debates for another time.

 

More immediately, I want to engage all of you on the complacency of some regarding violence or the threat of it within our protesting communities, and the political project of some actors to delegitimise institutional structures and replace them with revolutionary alternatives.
Many have stood firm against the presence of private security and public order police on campus, but have been shockingly sanguine about violence within the community of protesters. Many have simply turned a blind eye to violence or threats thereof, and some have even advocated violence as a legitimate means in a revolutionary moment. Really? At a university? In this moment, in a democratic era, whatever our criticisms of it? Is there not a romanticising of violence by middle class activists and academics? Have we truly considered the consequences of allowing violence to prevail within our community?

I worked in the townships around Pietermaritzburg – Mpophomeni, Sobantu, Imbali and Edendale – at the height of the ANC-Inkatha wars in the 1980s. The near civil war decimated the communities and undermined the possibility of any egalitarian project. If this is true of communities under economic pressure, how much more is it true of the University itself which is meant to be a free and safe space for all ideas? Can we truly extrapolate that because of the presence of structural violence as a result of neoliberalism and racial exclusion, personal violence can now be justified both within and outside of a university community? Even if one holds this view, is one not in violation of one’s implicit and explicit social compact with the University community to protect all within it, and its broader project of learning?
For many, these protests are a struggle for free education for the poor. This is a legitimate struggle, as I and many of the Wits executive have so often argued. But many are also aware that for some, this struggle is more than that. It is a means to achieve other political ends, whether those are constructed around the upcoming elections, or to create a systemic crisis that collapses the Zuma administration. Again, those agendas are legitimate and allowed in a democratic environment dependent on how they are undertaken. I have personally also been publicly critical of this government, probably more than most have. However, as Vice-Chancellor of this institution, it is my responsibility to ensure that this University survives intellectually and is not a casualty in a broader political struggle within the society. Our individual social contracts with the University and with the broader academy are to protect the academic community and the learning project itself, whatever our other political agendas. We cannot sacrifice this institution or this academic project to the vagaries of our other political agendas. This is what governs our actions as an executive.

 

The need to learn from past mistakes

Some may know that I worked at UDW in the 1990s. I was a general secretary of the union movement and an integral member of the concerned academic group. I, like some of you today, took positions against private security on campus, and to be fair, I too was sanguine about the violence perpetrated by the protesters and dissidents with whom I associated. Then too, a moment emerged when some believed that they could replace the university structures with revolutionary alternatives, where non-violence was a bourgeois distraction, and where the university could be sacrificed to the broader political project for egalitarianism. Then too, colleagues ignored the capability and legitimacy of the state to respond. I did not believe in and was not comfortable with the tactics used, although I must say that I did share (and still do) the commitment to the broader project of egalitarianism and free education for the poor.

 

However, even though I was uncomfortable with the strategies and tactics, I was complacent about the violence and did not firmly enough register my opposition. Eventually the protesters did bring the university to a standstill through violence or the threat thereof. They did try to replace its statutory structures – the SRC, management, Senate and Council – with revolutionary alternatives. In the end, the state did move in, acted against the protesters and brought back stability to the campus. But the damage had been done. The university was intellectually decimated as its top students and academics had abandoned it. The middle and upper middle class student and academic activists, some with trust funds, slunk away. Some of the academics with second passports simply moved back to their home countries. By the time I left, the Faculty of Humanities had a single professor, who served as dean. The real casualties of this experiment were not the activists and academics who had romanticised violence, even though some of them individually suffered. It was the poor black students who had no other alternative but to continue to go to that university.
This is the real fear I have. I vowed then never to repeat that mistake. 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. I learnt then, through hard experience, the real responsibility of the academic in a transforming university.

 

Preventing an egalitarianism of poverty

I urge you to consider one other point. Many of us had the privilege to study in the universities of North America or Western Europe, some even in the Ivy leagues like Chicago and Yale. But if we are to address the inequalities of our world, including those in the academy, then it is essential that we establish our own research intensive universities. Wits should be one of these, not only because of our strong intellectual legacy, but also because of the fact that we are far more demographically representative than any of our research intensive peers. For us to succeed in our research intensive goals, however, we need to protect this institution as we navigate the current turbulent political times. We need to ensure that we make decisions and undertake trade-offs that do not unravel the foundations of our research intensive capabilities. We must not pursue a strategy of realising an egalitarianism of poverty for it would reinforce the very inequalities of our world. To avoid this, it is important to know our history, especially in higher education. It is important to learn about our experiments, failed and successful, at transformation and institutional reform. It is important to know this simply so that we can collectively learn from the mistakes of our past. I have seen some of the proposals recommending institutional reform, and I was struck by how often they seemed ignorant of our past experiments and de-contextualized from our realities.
Finally, the issues facing the entire university system are access and funding. These cannot be resolved immediately and independently by Wits as an institution. We do not have the resources to do so. The issue needs to be dealt with in a coordinated way – involving students and management and other actors in the national system. The current strategy of shutting down the University is, in our view, detrimental to the task of building a transformed and academically excellent institution. While we support the overall aims and want to build a powerful alliance, the current strategy is not one that the University management can support. While we respect and will protect the right to protest, at the same time we have to ensure that the University is able to continue with its core activities. This is our responsibility. There will be times when protesters embark on actions that challenge the functioning of the University in ways that have far-reaching effects. We then have the unenviable task of making difficult decisions in order to protect the rights of ALL students but particularly the poorest students who cannot afford the loss of the academic calendar. We have to facilitate access of all students to the University, even while protest unfolds.

 

I urge you to think through some of these issues, and I would be happy to engage further with any of you should you want to do so.

 

Sincerely

 

Professor Adam Habib on behalf of the Senior Executive Team of the University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, South Africa

 

17 January 2016

The high cost of a dream: ‘R9340 is a lot of money’

By Thabiso Modiba

My name is Thabiso Modiba and I grew up with my two sisters, mother and father in rural Limpopo, Mabopane district. And I’m the only guy, the first-born. It was tough, with no electricity and running water, life is tough. The only truck that brings water is the one from the municipality that comes once a week. You have to take a bucket and go queue for water.

Since I was young, I have always wanted to be a doctor. When I was young, my mother got sick. We were living in a rural village and whenever we’d go to the clinic they’d say, “The doctors not here”, sometimes for days. I would get angry because my mom would be very sick and there was no doctor to help her. But when you come here, to the city, there are many. But that side where I’m living they are scarce.

HIGH HOPES: If he can find the money to pay for his tuition Thabiso Modiba hopes to become a medical doctor one day. Photo: Michelle Gumede

HIGH HOPES: If he can find the money to pay for his tuition Thabiso Modiba hopes to become a medical doctor one day. Photo: Michelle Gumede

 

My father earns about R5900 and sometimes is working at a construction company that deals with tenders. They build schools and those sort of things.

I don’t wanna lie, I never slept that day before matric results came out. I was watching TV on the fifth and they were announcing the results officially. There’s no electricity in the area but we take chances and connect cables, just so we can get an update on what’s happening with the matric results.

Through the post office, I applied in 2015 to five universities UP, UL, UJ, SMU and Wits. I got the application form to come to Wits from my father. He knows one of the security guards from Wits. I posted applications and the money required for each too. Costs differ from tertiary to tertiary, at Wits it was about the R100 and other universities it was R200 or R300. It’s like betting for the lotto, you don’t know when or where you’re going to win.

I was stressed on January 6 because Wits had said they’d send me an sms as soon as the matric results came out. I was anxious about how my results were gonna be. I was praying the whole day and night.

In the morning I got my results from my school, but still no sms from Wits. I preferred Wits because the communication was good. They communicated with me throughout the year through email. The other universities just sent me sms’s saying they acknowledge my application and will await my matric results. They also said that I have to submit my results face to face, whereas Wits just got them through the system.

So I was panicking. It was only on January 7 when I received an email from Wits with an offer to study chemical engineering and medicine. I accepted medicine so they said I must come and pay the registration fees of about R9340 before the day of enrolment.

Immediately, I called some of my relatives, for money. They were happy because my matric results were good, so they managed to put the money together for registration plus R400 for a bus.

I arrived in Johannesburg for the very first time in my life on Thursday January 8. My father who was in Soweto at the time had no idea where Wits was, so I had to ask people for directions at Park Station. They told me to walk to Bree then I would find the campus after crossing Nelson Mandela Bridge. I walked this by foot with my R9340 registration fee in my bag. That’s when I found myself in Wits. The big buildings were intimidating, I was afraid. I’m a rural boy and it’s the first time that I saw so many different people in such a busy place.

HALF WAY THERE: Modiba has registered at Wits but is yet to come up with the money for tuition. Photo: Michelle Gumede

HALF WAY THERE: Modiba has registered at Wits but is yet to come up with the money for tuition. Photo: Michelle Gumede

 

When I got here I was directed to the enrolment center where I was shown to the financial office. I paid registration and made my four-hour trip home. When I left Wits I was a little bit happy because it was promising that I’m in. I got home and my parents were panicking that I’d just paid and only been told to come back to Wits on Monday. You know when parents pay money they want to see proof that something is happening. R9340 is a lot of money, they’ve never had that kind of money in their hands before.

On Monday I had to wake up early in the morning to catch the 4am bus so I could be here by seven. When I got to Hall 29, students had blocked the way saying #FeesMustFall. We were told to go back home or do it online. Eish, I felt like the world was turning against me because I came from so far. I didn’t understand what was going on and neither did my parents when I called them to tell them. I went back home again coz there was no place to stay so I had to spend more money.

At home my parents didn’t trust what I said about the strike, they thought I was deliberately wasting money.

MONEY WOES: At home my parents didn’t trust what I said about the strike, they thought I was deliberately wasting money. Photo: Michelle Gumede

MONEY WOES: His parents didn’t trust what he said about the #FMF2016 strike, they thought he was deliberately wasting money. Photo: Michelle Gumede

 

On Tuesday, January 12, I got an email saying I could come and fetch my student card anytime and I heard from the news that registration was happening on Wednesday. I was there preparing money to travel again. It was only because I did so well at school that even my high school teachers and neighbors helped to put together money. They just want to see me at Wits doing medicine.

I arrived in Joburg at 8am on January 14, collected my student card and registration bag. I’m happy but worried at the same time.

Although I applied for funding from NSFAS they said I don’t qualify. I also applied for funds at the Limpopo Department of Health last year and the Motsepe Foundation this year but I still don’t have funds for my tuition and accommodation. I’m gonna be contacting the department telling them that I got accepted at Wits, maybe they can help me and speed up my application. I have until February 8. If fees had fallen maybe it would be better.

As told to Michelle Gumede

 

 

Whose #FeesMustFall is it anyway?

SELFIE TIME: Students who have come to register take a moment for a selfie with hired private security. Photo: Michelle Gumede

SELFIE TIME: Students who have come to register take a moment for a selfie with hired private security. Photo: Michelle Gumede

Ok, so you’ve been seeing some pretty shocking news coming out of the university over the last two weeks. While you know that the protest is a continuation from last year’s #FeesMustFall protests, there are certain things that are going on that you just don’t understand.

The good news is, we are here to help you. We have complied a list of questions and answers that can make understanding these protests a little bit easier for you.

Who are the students protesting?

The students that are currently involved in the #FeesMustFall2016 protests at Wits are some members of the Student Representative Council (SRC), the Wits Fees Must Fall (FMF) movement–who say they are non-partisan–and other students that are not part of the two groups. Even though the workers at Wits aren’t on strike, they have been protesting everyday this week at lunch time in solidarity with the students.

Why are they protesting?

The protests are about, among other things,  the need for all students, particularly those from previously disadvantaged backgrounds to have access to free quality education, that the registration fee be scrapped regardless of previous debts that they have incurred, that the upfront fee for university accommodation be scrapped and that international students that come from Africa be allowed to start their studies by paying only 20% of their entire tuition cost instead of the expected 75%.

What does this now mean for registration?

The registration process was meant to begin on the on January 11. But due to the ongoing protests on campus, they were postponed on January 12 and they resumed the following day. Registration has officially resumed however with a heavy private security presence guarding the registration venue, Hall 29.

When is this protest going to end?

It does not seem as though the end is in sight anytime soon. Students are still protesting on campus and they are demanding that the university stop ignoring them and begin to engage with them on the demands they have tabled. Until that happens, the students on Wednesday afternoon said they would take their protests into the forthcoming local elections saying: “No Free Education, No Elections”.

I’ve been watching Twitter and it looks like Wits SRC and Wits FMF have beef. Whose #FeesMustFall is it anyway?

There are some tensions between the Wits SRC, dominated by the Progressive Youth Alliance, and Wits FMF movement. The bodies even released two different, competing statements over the course of the week. Wits SRC members were also kicked out of a meeting by Wits FMF meeting for allegedly causing a disruption, an accusation the SRC denies. However the Wits SRC has been tweeting that they are for the #FeesMustFall. Likewise, Wits FMF has made it clear that they respect that the SRC is a democratically elected body, that is meant to represent students. However, Wits FMF is adamant that there will be times when both parties will have to work independently and that if the SRC wants to join in, they can only come as ordinary students to a non-partisan movement.

I thought students won last year, is there still a need for #FeesMustFall protests?

The diplomatic answer at this point is that you decide. In your decision making however, tread carefully and consider all sides of the discussion. However, here is some food for thought:

  • The university has made a couple of concessions including stating that students who cannot afford the R9 000 upfront payment fee can instead delay it and begin paying in March. But if you’re a student who can’t afford the R9 000 at any time of the year, and you have already stated that you are unable to meet the cost, where are you going to get that money in March?
  • The National Financial Aid Scheme is severely under pressure. There are a lot of students coming into the system, with not enough funding to assist all those who need it. It therefore would make more sense for other funding mechanisms to be explored.

Will the university’s calendar be disrupted?

At this point its a little too early to say. This will be determined by the length of the protests and the university’s reaction to them.

We hope this clears some things for you. We will keep updating you with any new developments as they come up.

Anxiety and confusion at Wits registration

New and returning students still uneasy as registration at Wits University goes ahead amidst protest action and a heavy security presence. 

THE SHOW GOES ON: Students register at Hall 29 for 2016 despite challenges. Photo: Michelle Gumede

THE SHOW GOES ON: Students register at Hall 29 for 2016 despite heavy security presence and FeesMustFall protests. Photo: Michelle Gumede

 

While sporadic protest action continues at Wits University main campus, some students have braved the demonstrations and heavily armed security guards to come and register for the 2016 academic year.  Some students were nervous about registering while others were just happy to have completed their registration.

Returning BSc student, Alexis Shumba, said her registration process has not gone smooth at all but because of university bureaucracy, not the protests.

“I have been going up and down since Monday from enrolment centre to CNS,” said Shumba.

Shumba has been coming in everyday since Monday from Crown Gardens, arriving at 7am and leaving at around 3pm. The self-funded student said she is frustrated and only saw today that the protest was actually needed. “But I hate that its interfering but its needed coz my thing was blocked because of fees.”

Newly-registered BSc student Sonwabiso Manty from Mdantsane in the Eastern Cape said when he heard about the FeesMustFall protests continuing on Monday, he became quite anxious about registering. News of extra security and calm on campus made him more “relaxed”. Registration at the university resumed today.

“Everything was smooth and the staff were so excellent,” Manty said.

Manty was able to pay the registration with money he received from his high APS scores. However he is still looking for a bursary to pay for his tuition.  “My documents are still outstanding for financial aid,” he said.

Students who are part of the FeesMustFall movement are still protesting while security presence is high and police vehicles can be spotted all over campus.

 

Private security ‘moerskonts’ students: Wits fees protestors

Update: The university has since vehemently denied claims of any students being assaulted. See the full statement here .

By Masego Panyane and Michelle Gumede
About 60 private security guards were used to evacuate protesting students from Solomon House concourse in an act protesters have called disproportionate

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

Around 60 private security guards in riot gear were used to “moerskont” and remove nine protesting students in the early hours of Tuesday morning from Solomon House, according to the students.
“They moerskonted us to a point where we could not see,” said Wits Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) chairperson Vuyani Pambo.
The students, who are part of the Wits #FeesMustFall movement, have been occupying Solomon House, also known as Senate House, since January 3. The students had said their demands have not yet been met by Wits management and as a result, they would not move.
According to the students, in the early hours of Tuesday, Michael Mahada of Campus Control woke them up and read them a notice signed by Prof Tawana Kupe, deputy vice chancellor for advancement, human resources and transformation. The notice said the students need to evacuate the premises by the end of business on the previous day, Monday, January 11. Campus Control also had in their possession, dossiers on four of the protestors which had pictures and personal information of the students.
The students were given five minutes to leave Solomon House but they refused. The six Campus Control security guards who had been present throughout the night then stepped back and the private security guards, wearing body armour, wielding plastic shields and batons, sprang into action. Two separate groups of security entered the building from two different sides, physically throwing students out of the building and taking their cellphones. See the footage of the eviction here

BRINGING OUT THE BIG GUNS: Armed private police could be seen at various locations on east campus. Photo: Michelle Gumede

BRINGING OUT THE BIG GUNS: Armed private security could be seen at various locations on east campus. Photo: Michelle Gumede

“In that 30 – 45 minutes, they started locking up the exits but they wanted us to leave,” said one of the protestors, who did not want to be named for fear of victimisation.
When questioned, one of the private security guards told Wits Vuvuzela that he was struck on the head with a bottle by one of the students. A protestor claims that this was in self-defence and they started using anything from the dustbins outside Senate House in order to keep the private security guards who had been physically assaulting them at bay.
Students were chased all the way to the parking outside Men’s Res area where they were then cordoned off.
Student protestors also said that female protesters had been grabbed around their breasts by private security guards evicting them from Solomon House.

Amadla!: Wits EFF Student Command leader Vuyani Pambo addressing protesting students and workers outside the cordoned off Great Hall. Photo: Michelle Gumede

Amadla!: Wits EFF Student Command leader Vuyani Pambo addressing protesting students and workers outside the cordoned off Great Hall. Photo: Michelle Gumede

When asked about this a private security guard responded: “When you are removing people from a space, you are not checking where the lady’s breasts are.”
On SABC’s Morning Live today, Vice Chancellor Adam Habib said that the university cannot be held hostage by twenty odd students.
The university’s senior executive team sent out a statement confirming that students were evicted because they “effectively disrupted the university’s registration process yesterday.” The statement goes on to say the occupation was an infringement of the rights of students who wanted to register and that face to face registration will continue on January 13.

 

Division over free accommodation at Wits

Affected students in a meeting with acting Dean of Students Lamese Abrahams discussing amongst other things, the plan to accommodate students preparing for exams. Photo: Michelle Gumede

Affected students in a meeting with acting Dean of Students Lamese Abrahams discussing amongst other things, the plan to accommodate students preparing for exams. Photo: Michelle Gumede

by Masego Panyane and Michelle Gumede

HUNDREDS of Wits students will be temporarily accommodated for free after being left homeless on campus over the festive season, squatting in libraries and computer labs to prepare for their supplementary and deferred examinations.

This comes after the entire end-of-year examination timetable was reshuffled due to the #FeesMustFall protests that rocked the country late last year. Supplementary and deferred exam dates were pushed back to early January and many students stayed on campus to prepare. But many were left without accommodation as residences closed on December 1.

In protest against their lack of accommodation, many of the affected students with the Wits Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) and Wits Fees Must Fall (FMF) staged a sit-in at the Senate House concourse, also known as Solomon House.

On Monday January 4, several Student Representative Council (SRC) members met with representatives from the All Res Council, the university administration and Wits EFF to agree that students writing deferred and supplementary exams would be accommodated on campus.

SRC projects, media and campaigns officer Mzwanele Ntshwanti said the SRC left for holidays on December 23. When the SRC arrived on campus in early January, they received and processed a list of the homeless compiled by a few students who had been staying in the library, concourse and computer labs.  Ntshwanti said the SRC were already prepared that there might be a situation where a bulk of students would come from all over the country to write their exams.  However, he said preparations stalled over how much it would cost the university.

“Conversations were started, they were just never concluded because the university was like ‘It’s gonna be costly and they were not willing to take the cost’,” Ntshwanti said.

This week’s agreement allows for 500 students, 300 male and 200 female, to be accommodated at Men’s Res and Jubilee respectively. Ntshwanti estimates the accommodation will cost the SRC R181 per night per student.

University officials could not be reached for comment by Wits Vuvuzela as of the time of posting this article.

Vuyani Pambo of Wits EFF said his organisation spent their holidays staging a sit in at Mens res, studying and consulting with students on possible solutions regarding the academic year ahead. Pambo says during their interaction with students it became more apparent that many students were on campus studying and doing vacation work to save up for their fees while being without accommodation.

On December 28, the Wits EFF staged a “let in” at Mens Res, where they opened up the residence for all homeless student which lead to conflict with campus control.

Pambo said they occupied Men’s Res only after attempting, unsuccessfully, to negotiate for accommodation for the homeless students with the university.

Although campus control was called to the Men’s Res, the students were never removed from the res and students are now coming in to sign up for accommodation since the agreement was publicised on social media by both the SRC and Wits EFF.

The procedure is that students have to go to cluster head Doreen Musemwa at Jubilee residence the day before their allocated exam date where their status for a deferred or supplementary exam is verified. Students must then go to the SRC offices to fill out forms and then they can then move into res. Students can stay at res until the day after their exam and will receive breakfast daily at the main dining hall for the duration of their stay.

Third-year mining student, Albert Sefadi* said that learning about the agreement on Facebook, he drove to Johannesburg from Mahikeng to sign up for the accommodation before his exam date. However, he says when he got to Jubilee on Tuesday he found that Musemwa was not around and he had to sleep in his car.

Sefadi was later assisted by the SRC on Wednesday and had completed all his paperwork, ready to move into his room by 10am.

There are some students who are distrustful of the arrangement. Rendani Dumah* a final-year education student and Wits FMF member decided to not take the offered accommodation.

“I don’t want to have the SRC telling people that they did stuff for me when they didn’t do anything,” said Dumah.

As of Friday, the occupation of Senate House has continued despite the dean of students sent the FMF group a letter demanding they leave the concourse.

*Affected students requested that Wits Vuvuzela change their names.