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THE WITS Health Sciences community has been hit by increased levels of crime just outside the Parktown campus since the end of last year, according to security guards.
David Mlambo, an external perimeter security guard from Protection Services, said that pedestrians with cellphones were being targeted as they walked along York Road, but recently, there had also been incidents of motor vehicle theft and robberies.
There is at least one incident of theft, or attempted theft, every week, according to Mlambo. He said, they had foiled an attempted theft of a Toyota Etios one day at the end of February but a Toyota Yaris had been stolen the very next day.
“You know, criminals are clever. I have noticed that these criminals move around checking or monitoring us, the security. It is very bad. We are all not safe,” he said.
Mlambo’s sentiments were echoed by Peter Selowa, an independent car guard, who said incidents of crime in the area had increased since the Hillbrow Police Station had cut the frequency of patrol cars.
“The police also need to play a big role. They must be visible. I think it might help,” said Mlambo.
Third-year medical student Revaan Singh was attending Awareness Day at the Medical School on March 6, when his Toyota Yaris was stolen from a parking bay on York Road.
“I walked out to go home. I was in disbelief as I approached the space where I had parked not to find my car there. At that point I knew that it had been stolen,” said the 25-year-old.
Toni Batty, a fourth-year BNurs student, said that she wished someone had warned her about the severity of crime in the area.
“Parking my car outside gives me anxiety, not only for the risk of car theft or smash-and-grabs, but also for my own safety, walking to and from my car before and after class,” Batty added.
Director of Family Medicine Dr Richard Cooke said that he was mugged in the area last year and that had made him more cautious.
“I am very vigilant now. I’m always a bit nervous walking up that hill. My main concern is not for individuals like myself, to be frank. I am concerned for smaller and, more predominantly, female students.”
Wits security staff have advised that people should avoid using cellphones in the street, that they walk in groups, and avoid leaving valuables in plain sight in parked cars.
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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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