By Zimasa Mpemnyama and Masego Panyane
The South Gauteng High Court on Thursday ruled in favour of seven Wits students who were suspended by the university following a protest and fight at an SRC (Student Representative Council) debate.
The students are to be allowed back onto university precincts but will still not be allowed to participate in SRC Elections. The court ordered that the student’s disciplinary hearings be conducted by Wits within 10 days.[For the full judgement click here]
The ruling was welcomed by one of the suspended students, Wits EFF chairperson Vuyani Pambo.
“We are happy about our victory,” Pambo said. “The university is in trouble. [Vice Chancellor] Habib must go.”
Wits spokesperson Shirona Patel said the university welcomed and would abide the decision: “The university welcomes the decision. We will ensure the students get the disciplinary with 10 days.”
The Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) were seeking the interdict on behalf of five members of their Wits branch who were suspended after they started a protest at an SRC debate at the Great Hall on August 18 which ended in a brawl on stage. They were also seeking to overturn the suspension of two students who are not members of the Wits EFF branch.
Habib and the University Council had suspended the seven students from the university on August 21. The students, some of which are postgraduate and final year students, said they had not been notified how long their suspensions would be.
“Habib might say we are suspended for one day, or he might say we are suspended for a year, five years, we don’t know,” said Ayabulela Mhlahlo, Wits EFF deputy chairperson and one of the suspended students.
Lock out of residences
The students that were suspended by the university are Mhlahlo, Koketso Poho (Wits EFF), Mbe Mbhele (Wits EFF), Tebogo Mabeso (Wits EFF), Vuyani Pambo (Wits EFF), Mcebo Dlamini (Progressive Youth Alliance) and Lwazi Siyabonga Lushaba (PhD student/lecturer).
Some of the EFF students and Dlamini already had pending charges against them. The Wits EFF charges stem in part after a protest where they forcefully took food from the Main Dining Hall earlier this year which they gave, in part, to other students.
After their suspension, some of the students found their access to their residences had been deactivated and they were unable to get into their rooms. Other students said Campus Control arrived at their rooms and ordered them to leave.
Pambo, the Wits EFF chairperson, told Wits Vuvuzela in an interview before the court ruling that Campus Control knocked on his door “apartheid-style” last Friday at around 11pm and he was told to vacate the room within 20 minutes. He only managed to leave with a couple of possessions, “I was angry. If I had actually fought then maybe I would have understood. But I did nothing wrong.”
“I spent something close to 30 minutes outside res, wondering what to do,” said Pambo.
Wits EFF secretary, Mbhele said his room was already locked when he arrived at his residence on Friday afternoon. When he tried to log on to Sakai (the university e-learning tool), he couldn’t. “When I got to res the security already knew that I was expelled … before I did. My clothes are still locked in at res as we speak.”
Suitcase already packed
Another student, Tebogo Mabeso, arrived to his res on Friday to find his suitcase had already been packed for him and the locks of his room changed.
The suspended students were not able to access any university facilities, including dining halls, meaning some of the suspended were no longer able to access meals.
Some of the residence students suspended come from as far as Limpopo and KwaZulu Natal, leaving them without accommodation in Johannesburg.
Habib has maintained that the suspension of the seven students was necessary to create an environment that is safe and violence free for the students and staff members of the university.
“Students who are suspended are those who were involved in violence, threatened violence, and say they will do it again,” Habib said in a post to Twitter after the suspensions.
“Habib was very arrogant”
Habib further said on Twitter, “These were hard decisions which we did not like making. But sometimes they have to be made if we are to be safe and democratic.”
However, Mbhele denied that they had attacked anyone at the SRC debate or that Wits EFF was violent.
“It is actually Habib who is violent, not us,” he said.
Chairperson of the National EFF Advocate Dali Mpofu, who was present for the hearing said the EFF would take further action against Habib.
“Habib was very arrogant … Next year we will make sure that Habib is not there,” Mpofu said.
Before the court ruling, Mbhele said that even if the court ruled in their favour, they would still face a hard time in getting their school work back on track.
“I think the university is just setting us up for failure because even when we go back to school, we have not been studying. And, it is test week on Monday … It is going to be very difficult for us to catch up,” Mbele said.
The University has released a statement indicating that while it disagrees with parts of the ruling, it accepts the decision.