By Emelia Motsai and Mia Swart
WITS students have found themselves divided and confused by competing petitions between the Democratic Alliance Student Organisation (Daso) and the Progressive Youth Alliance-dominated Student Representative Council.
On Wednesday, the SRC was asking students to sign a petition demanding misconduct charges against 11 students, including nine SRC members, be dropped. At the same time Daso was petitioning for the charges against the eleven students to not be dropped.
The students were charged for contravention of the university’s code of conduct. The group was charged after disrupting a musical recital by Israeli-born pianist Yossi Reshef on March 12 as part of a protest during Israel Apartheid Week.
The SRC said they want the charges against them dropped because university management was attacking their right to protest. Daso disagrees with this claim.
“We do not think the SRC is above the code of conduct that students need to comply with. We believe that they should be disciplined,” said chairperson of DASO Wits, Dikeledi Selowa.
The organisations petitioned on both Main and Education campus. Selowa said they planned to get about 2 000 signatures for the petition. The SRC had endorsements for their petition from more than 100 organisations as well as asking students to sign.
The SRC asked students to sign their petition in support of the right to protest against issues that students are unhappy with such as housing.
A Daso representative told students: “The SRC must not have its own mandate. They must have a student mandate. They must be held accountable for their actions. We don’t have a problem with the protest. The issue is the manner.”
While the organisations stuck to their beliefs, students were divided over which petition to sign.
Kirsten Chetty, 1st year LLB signed the Daso petition because: “The SRC shouldn’t have boycotted that way. You can make your opinions known, but to enforce it in that manner is wrong.”
Hunadi Mogaladi, 1st year Medicine, signed the SRC petition: “One of our human rights is free speech. If you are not letting people protest, then it undermines that right,” she said.
One student who signed the Daso petition, Ilanet Chernick , was one of the attendees at the concert on March 12. Chernick described her experience of the protest as “horrible”.
She signed the Daso petition because she believes the SRC should be held accountable and “cannot be allowed to get off”. Chernick, who is Jewish, said a lot of friction has arisen between Jewish students and the Wits Muslim Student Association.
But other students were confused about the petitions they were signing. “I don’t even know why I signed,” said a student just after putting her name to the Daso petition.
Her friend also signed the Daso petition, but soon afterwards asked for it to be taken off. “I thought it was for Palestine so I signed,” she said.
Another girl signed the SRC petition and then she told her friend to do the same because “the SRC was protesting against a lecturer who was charged for attempted rape.”
An SRC member corrected her.
While some students were signing the Daso petition sheets, other students refused to sign the sheet and said because the petition was organized by the “opposition” it might be biased.