Three weeks of protest…and now a historic general assembly at Wits

 

Students gather around the steps of the Great Hall to listen to former SRC president Mcebo Dlamini. Photo: Laura Pisanello

Students gather around the steps of the Great Hall to listen to former SRC president Mcebo Dlamini.                                                                                                       Photo: Laura Pisanello

After three weeks of protest and shutdown, Wits University will hold a general assembly on Friday, one of only a few in the university’s history.

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Suspended student “escorted off the campus”

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A Wits student and audience member get into a physical altercation at transformation panel hosted by the Wits Faculty of Health Sciences on Thursday night. Photo: Nokuthula Zwane

A physical altercation between a suspended Wits student and an audience member was just one of the many disruptions at a discussion about transformation at Wits University last night.

The discussion hosted by the Faculty of Health Sciences for their annual Ethics Alive Symposium included the Vice-Chancellors Adam Habib (Wits University), Max Price (University of Cape Town – UCT), Dan Kgwadi (North West University – NWU) and Mvuyo Tom (University of Fort Hare), along with struggle veteran and Wits alumnus George Bizos. Suspended student, Zama Mthunzi, who came into the venue wearing a t-shirt that read: Habib, Price kill Black lives,” was later removed by private security guards.

The unidentified man that he got into an altercation with was not removed leading to calls for his eviction from some remaining students who proceeded to interrupt the presentations of the speakers. 

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T-shirt says it all: During Prof. Kgwadi’s talk Wits student stands up and raises concerns

Habib then intervened and told the audience that “nobody is going anywhere”, and if the students could not let the speakers finish then they could leave.

Matters further escalated when another member in the audience said to the students “if you don’t want to be here then f**k off.”

In a statement released earlier today, Wits University confirmed that a suspended student had been “escorted off the campus.” Furthermore, the student was “reported to the police for violating a court order”. An audience member, who identified herself as an alumni of the university raised her concerns about the caustic relationship between the students, the vice chancellor and administration. “This policing of students, security and private militarisation is heart-breaking and only aggravates the relationship between the students and this administration,” she said.

Medical student, Nyabinghi Ngobeni, reminded Habib that last night’s event was the first time since last year’s protests that he has met with the students. “It’s disrespectful,” she said because the event should have been a student platform and everyone else there should have be disregarded.”

The gathering eventually concluded with an address by Wits alumnus and struggle stalwart Advocate George Bizos.

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.

 

 

 

 

 

OPINION: Seven things we’ve learned from the #EFF7

Wits Vuvuzela journalist, Sibongile Machika, looks back at the suspension, and then court challenge of the EFF7 and suggests seven lessons to take away from the saga.

1. “Habib must fall”

The Wits EFF (Economic Freedom Fighters) has called for the fall of  Professor Adam Habib on a number of occassions demonstrating a growing dissatisfaction with the vice chancellor and principal of the university.

Adam Habib Wits University Vice Chancellor says it is not often that universities in South Africa receive funding of this magnitude.Normally  from sole philanthropists. The funding for universities is largely  sourced from corporates and state funding agencies locally, and international trusts and foundations

Adam Habib Wits University Vice Chancellor. Photo: Wits Vuvuzela.

 

The suspension of the seven students, most of whom were EFF aligned, was completely within Wits rules and procedures. Yet the court found that this decision violated the students’ right to education.  How can a university, a place that is meant to shape the minds of our future leaders have laws that contradict our treasured constitution? What does this say about our universities and the people that govern them?  Surely it is reasonable that such leaders must “fall”.

2. Choose your friends carefully

VICTORIOUS: Wits EFF members and Advocate Dali Mpofu celebrate outside the South Gauteng court, after their suspension from the university was overturned. Photo: Michelle Gumede

VICTORIOUS: Wits EFF members and Advocate Dali Mpofu celebrate outside the South Gauteng court, after their suspension from the university was overturned. Photo: Michelle Gumede

 

Had this been any other group of students involved in a fight or disruption, they would probably have turned on each other at the first sign of suspension. The relationship between the Wits EFF members is strengthened by their commitment to a shared political ideology. Under the leadership of Vuyani Pambo they fought together for a common cause through thick and thin.

3. Stick to your guns

Vuyani Pambo briefing EFF members after the great brawl

Vuyani Pambo briefing EFF members after the great brawl. Photo: Sibongile Machika

 

Throughout the threats, the fights and even suspensions, the Wits EFF members stood firm in the beliefs. They continuously defended the stance that Wits management shifts some of their responsibilities and decision-making to the SRC (Student Representative Council).

4. Timing is everything

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Although the suspended students are back at university, they still have to face the consequences of their actions. Facing a disciplinary hearing so close to the exams is never a good idea, the outcome could have huge implications on their future at Wits.

 

5. Struggle songs are still sung

We’ve all learnt at least one struggle song from the Wits EFF members.

6. Black lives still don’t matter

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Wits EFF members waiting for the keys to their rooms at Wits Senate House. Photo: Sibongile Machika

 

Some of the suspended students lived at Wits University residences as they hail from outside the Gauteng province. When the students were suspended, they were kicked out of res but there was little consideration for where they would stay and what they would eat. Granted, they are all adults who must think about the implications of the actions but education is a holistic experience.

The living circumstances of students must always be considered in both teaching and disciplining students.

7. Youth drives change

 

Wits EFF members at the men's res march. Photo: Tanisha Hieberg

Wits EFF members at the men’s res march. Photo: Tanisha Hieberg

 

Wits EFF students and the rest of the students driving the transformation across South Africa have inspired the nation in the same way that the class of ’76 did. No matter what happens now, there is no going back.

Wits town hall sees shouting match

Former Wits SRC member Jamie Mighti walked out of a Wits town hall earlier today after he found himself in a shouting match with VC Adam Habib. 

A Wits town hall ended in tension earlier today after a shouting match between Vice Chancellor Prof Adam Habib and former SRC member Jamie Mighti,  with the latter leaving the room when the argument reached a boiling point.

During the town hall, Mighti shouted his suggestion from the back of the room that Habib should order police to protect Wits students in Braamfontein, Habib shouted back that this was illegal for him to do.

Mighti insisted that the University of Johannesburg has such initiatives in place. Habib responded that it’s the responsibility of the municipality to do that.

The two parties then had a shouting match, with both accusing the other was ‘lying’.

Mighti said that Habib “Should stop lying to the students.” Mighti, who was wearing an Student Representative Council blazer, told all present that he is no longer a member of the SRC.

After the publicly heated argument, Mighti and several other students left the Senate Room. Habib continued with the meeting.

SRC president Shaeera Kalla told Wits Vuvuzela, “Town hall meetings for me are a space where things can really get unproductive, close to election time you find that parties come and want to have the loudest voice or the loudest bark.”

Kalla said she doesn’t appreciate students walking out like that, because they’ve come here to engage. “It’s a common tendency sometimes that when things don’t go your way to walk out, it’s a bit cowardly. But I do appreciate the input, and I think it’s fair to have input of that nature. The vice chancellor should be accountable and I really don’t think its professional of him to scream at students like that. There must be respectful engagement from both sides,” said Kalla.

On addressing the issue of Wits students safety outside of the university, Habib said he cannot control neighbourhoods surrounding student residences, such as Esselen residence in Hillbrow. “I don’t have the authority to look after Hilbrow,” he said. Habib added that he believed Esselen residence should be closed down.

Related articles: Jamie Mighti resigns from Wits SRC

 

Wits flags fly at half-mast for former vice chancellor 

Wits University’s flags will fly at half-mast for the next six days in honour of  former Vice Chancellor, Professor Robert (Bob) Charlton. Charlton passed away yesterday morning at the age of 86, after succumbing to a brief illness. He  first came to Wits as an undergraduate medical student in 1946 and was appointed as vice chancellor of the university 46 years later. In a statement released by Prof Adam Habib, current vice-chancellor, Charlton’s academic and professional journey as well as his personal characteristics were celebrated. 

The statement is reproduced in full below:

“Dear Colleagues

The Wits flag will fly at half-mast for the next six days to honour the memory of former Wits Vice-Chancellor, Professor Robert (Bob) Charlton who passed away this morning after a brief illness at the age of 86.

Professor Robert W Charlton’s long association with Wits began in 1946 when he registered as an undergraduate medical student. He was awarded the degree of MD in 1963 and appointed as Professor of Experimental and Clinical Pharmacology in 1967. In 1975, Professor Charlton was elected as a Senate representative on the University Council while serving as Assistant Dean of the Medical School. In 1978, he was elected Dean and served in that capacity until his appointment as Deputy Vice-Chancellor in 1980. In February 1988, he was appointed Vice-Chancellor and Principal of Wits University and held office for two terms until 1997. Under his steadfast and principled leadership, the University was steered on an even course during challenging times in the late 1980s and 1990s.

During his career as an academic and university administrator he served on several local and national bodies. These include the Medicines Control Council, the South African Medical and Dental Council, the Johannesburg Hospital Board, the Coronation Nursing College Council, the Witwatersrand Technikon Council and the Johannesburg College of Education Council.

Professor Charlton served with dedication on the Board of Governors of the Wits Foundation. He was invited to be a Trustee in 1987 and was reappointed in 1997. He served voluntarily in this position until 2008.

He had a passion for education and a lifelong commitment to the University that continued in many formal and informalcapacities in recent years. He initiated and supported the Charlton Awards for Service Excellence for support staff, and was always present to hand out these coveted awards to exceptional staff. He regularly attended Wits events including Evolution Day in the Great Hall in June this year.

We acknowledge with gratitude the invaluable contribution that Professor Charlton made to Wits University. Wits has indeed lost one of its stalwarts today. His wife Margaret, also deeply involved in university life, passed away some years ago. Our deepest condolences are extended to Professor Charlton’s family, friends and former colleagues and students, and especially to his three daughters, Sarah, Julia and Diana, and his son, Robert, all of whom have close ties with Wits.

We wish you peace during this difficult period.

– Professor Adam Habib”.