Seven students were suspended by the University Council last Friday after the SRC elections debate was disrupted at the Wits Great Hall. According to a statement released by the council, the students were suspended because they allegedly “threatened violence”, disrupted a university gathering, and were expressing views and ideas which the university was uncomfortable with. The university has emphasised that the students have shown no remorse for their actions and would not give assurances that such disruptions would not happen again.
It is important to state that Wits Vuvuzela does not condone violence and that the views expressed in this editorial do not express the views of our entire newsroom, but rather of the majority of our journalists. As the campus newspaper, future journalists and most importantly Wits students, we feel it is our social responsibility to voice our discomfort with any irregularities within the Wits community.
On the August 20, Wits University released a statement announcing the suspension of the Wits EFF as a club and society and seven Wits students, who were allegedly involved in the disruption of the Great Hall SRC Elections Debate two days before.
As the Wits Vuvuzela team, we feel that the manner in which the vice chancellor and the Council arrived at their decision was hasty and harsh. In this case, the punishment does not fit the crime.
As journalists, the freedoms of expression and of association, are two of the most important aspects of our jobs. The Council’s decision has created an environment in which those rights have been made vulnerable through fear. On our (Wits Vuvuzela) social media accounts, and in person, students are sharing with us how this decision has effectively silenced their voices, and as journalists we feel the same way. What happens when we run an editorial or story that management does not agree with? What happens when management wants us to name our sources?
The right to protest is enshrined in the South African Constitution, and that right extends to our institutions of higher learning. The decision to suspend the Wits EFF as a society (although it was reinstated shortly after the intervention of the national EFF structure), showed an intolerance to this right to protest. Forms of protest differ in different communities, and what the VC could have done, is to try and understand the students and their methods, instead of acting in such a quick and seemingly unconsultative way.
There also appears to be a lack of consistency in the decision-making of Wits management, especially considering that many other students were also involved in the disruption but did not face the same harsh sentences.
Lastly, suspending students a couple of months before their final exams is irresponsible and short-sighted. One of the students that has been suspended is PhD candidate, Lwazi Siyabonga Lushaba who is in line to become one of the first black lecturers in the politics department. Given our concerns about transformation of the academy, it is regrettable that his academic career at Wits may be cut short in this manner.
As an educational institution we believe that learning and our students should be at the forefront of all decisions.