Historic General Assembly postponed with student protesters and Wits administration blaming each other.
By Ayanda Mgede and Tebogo Tshwane
The General Assembly that was expected to take place on Friday afternoon at the University of the Witwatersrand was postponed due to failed negotiations between management and student protesters, with both blaming the other for the breakdown.
The historic meeting would have been a symbolic show of consensus between the university and protesting students towards the fight for free, quality and decolonised education. However, after negotiations with management, protesters and mediators went into the early hours of Friday morning, neither party could reach agreement on certain issues.
In the press briefing that took place earlier this morning , Vice-Chancellor Adam Habib said students had gone back on the previous agreement that the university would continue with the academic programme on Monday. He said students had asked for the university to shutdown until government agrees to free education now. Habib added that students also wanted to change the format of the General Assembly and enable engagement from the floor.
“There were no guarantees that there wouldn’t be disruptions of one form or another…and then there’d be tension and it would result in some form of violence,” said Habib
Students, however, say Habib did not give them enough time to negotiate. One of the representatives, Anzio Jacobs, said the postponement of the assembly was a sign of the university acting in bad faith. “We were willing to negotiate, we were in fact trying to come to a compromise at 9am this morning but the university jumped the gun and told us that it was cancelled before we even responded,” he said.
1. Habib has painted us once again and unruly and unreasonable. We found out this assembly was cancelled like everyone else, through twitter
— Shaeera Kalla (@shaeera_k) October 7, 2016
Jacobs said students wanted to change the general format of the assembly because they felt that it was not enough to have just two representatives speaking on behalf of the larger student populace which has wider range of problems. “What we were asking for was at least three or four hands of stating what we might have missed in the consolidated list of demands,” he said.
Jacobs added that the call for “free education now” did not mean they wanted free education today but “soon as possible”. He said that is why they had a proposed fee model which stipulated timelines on when free education could be realised.
“The vice-chancellor doesn’t seem to understand that students can think for themselves…that we can’t say that free education should happen at 12 o’clock and by 1 o’clock free education will be implemented,” he said.
The University Council is set to have a meeting this weekend. Council chairperson Randall Carollisen said “losing the 2016 academic year is not an option”. Habib stated that there were various options that council were going to look at, in moving forward. He added that running online courses was one of the options but raised his concerns with the poor students not having access to the resources.
Deputy VC Tawana Kupe said the university will release a statement on Sunday to say whether the university would open on Monday or not.
Wits Vuvuzela: Three weeks of protest aand now a historic general assembly, October 6, 2016
Wits Vuvuzela: Wits convenes General Assembly, October 6, 2016