WITS University vice-chancellor Prof Adam Habib faced down criticism of how he had handled the #FeesMustFall protests, and other “misrepresentations” in his latest book, Rebels and Rage, at its launch in Hyde Park on Wednesday, March 13.
A group of about 20 people who identified themselves as students took Habib to task over his decision to call police onto campus during the 2016 #FMF protests.
Prof Habib defended his decision, saying, he had called police onto campus because of the responsibility he had to ensure the safety and security of the entire Wits community, and that 77% of students who had taken part in an SMS poll conducted by the university, had indicated that they wanted to complete the academic year.
“If I was faced with the same circumstances and the same conditions, I would make the same decision again as it was the progressive and right decision under those circumstances,” he told the Exclusive Books audience.
His critics were having none of his explanations, and were robust in their engagement. “You are a skilful liar … you are a very, very violent man,” said one, much to the displeasure of the audience that heckled him.
The young man was not fazed, and challenged the VC to host an assembly at the university to allow students to engage with him about the book. Afterwards, he told Wits Vuvuzela that he was a student at Wits, but wouldn’t give his name.
Former Wits Student Representative Council (SRC) member and All Residence Council chairperson, Willie Muhlarhi, said that he had attended the launch to call Prof Habib to account for “misrepresenting the role of student leadership” during #FMF.
In the book, Prof Habib is critical of student leaders and academics he characterised as being “far-left”. He accuses student leaders of being often absent from efforts to provide solutions. As an example, he says the most progressive funding model that was brought to the university was created by a group of accounting students, who were not part of student leadership.
This is inaccurate, according to Muhlarhi, who is studying towards a masters in finance. “Habib fails to mention that there were SRC and student committee members involved in creating the model submitted by the accounting students, which shows a lack of research on his part.”
Students are not the only critics of Habib’s book. Former Wits anthropology lecturer, Dr Kelly Gillespie, who is named in the book as being one of the far-left academics, told Wits Vuvuzela that Prof Habib had misrepresented her and progressive lecturers’ actions and motives during the protests.
“It’s incredibly irresponsible for him to argue [progressive lecturers] were proponents of, or encouraging violence when 99% of the time we were there, we were trying to reduce violence and calm things down on both sides. He is creating extremely partial accounts that are very dangerous, and for some it feels he’s creating conditions for [academics] to be watched by state security,” Gillespie said.
Prof Habib has disputed the claims that he misrepresented #FMF events. “I wanted to correct the narrative of Fees Must Fall being pushed by politicians that the vice-chancellors are these neoliberals while the student activists are progressives who are the only ones committed to the goal of free education. That simply isn’t true,” he told Wits Vuvuzela.
Wits will host an event for Rebels and Rage, Prof Habib told the audience at the book launch, but details will be announced later.
FEATURED PHOTO: Wits vice-chancellor Prof Adam Habib responded to criticisms that he had misrepresented events and prominent figures during the #FeesMustFall protests at the launch of his book, Rebels and Rage hosted in Hyde Park.
Photo: Naledi Mashishi
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