The WITS Student Representative Council (SRC) and other student groups have distanced themselves from Monday’s protest against fees and outsourcing, which partially shut down the university.
The protest, which started in the fees office in Senate House on Monday morning, led to the disruption of lectures, a blockade at the university’s entrance on Empire Road and a torched lecture theatre. The protest met with criticism even as it begun, as other activists accused it of being organised during a closed-door meeting held in Pretoria over the weekend.
In an interview with Wits Vuvuzela, Fasiha Hassan, the SRC’s secretary general, said the Wits SRC was not invited to the event and condemned what she called a “deliberate attempt” to exclude key student groups from the meeting.
“The greater issue we had was the lack of representation, particularly at Wits, because a decision came out of that meeting to shut down Wits University without having formal Wits representation,” she said.
The Wits SRC said that while they supported the decolonisation project and the call for free education, they did not condone violent protest.
“If free education comes, what facilities will you use if they are all burnt down?” she said.
The meeting and protest were both criticised for not being inclusive of a more representative student body. Some felt that many groups who are a part of the #FeesMustFall movement were excluded. In addition to the Wits SRC, some black feminists and queer groups complained of being excluded.
During the protest, one black, queer female protester, Thenjiwe Mswane confronted some of the male protesters and accused them of not being inclusive. What followed was an argument which resulted in Mswane being grabbed and wrestled to the ground by some male protesters.
Chumani Maxwele, a student activist known for his involvement in #RhodesMustFall at UCT, was present at the meeting and was in the frontlines of the protest.
Maxwele slammed critics of the protest saying they had lost the focus and reasons for #FeesMustFall, because of “identity politics”.
“Those groups are focusing on identity politics. Identity politics are not the core agenda of #FeesMustFall,” he said.
Maxwele denies that anyone was excluded from the meeting held over the weekend in Pretoria.
“We wanted active participants [on the ground],” Maxwele said. “There were members of Wits present at the meeting.”
The protest was organised to call for free education and to protest the claim that 500 students would be deregistered at Wits. Yet the Wits SRC and the university have said that there will be no students excluded due to financial difficulties after reaching an agreement.
The aftermath of the protests saw five students suspended by the university and a case of arson opened at the Hillbrow police station. There has been extra security spotted on East Campus.