Prof. Mamokgethi Phakeng has announced her immediate resignation as member and president of the executive committee of convocation of the University of the Witwatersrand.
Phakeng announced the resignation on her blog, saying that she wanted to focus on her new role as deputy vice chancellor of research and internationalisation at the University of Cape Town.
The announcment comes amidst weeks of protest at Wits where #FeesMustFall students have clashed with private security and police, exchanging thrown rocks with tear gas and rubbet bullets resulting in at least 10 arrests this week.
Phakeng has been a part of the Wits Convocation for five years saying in a personal blog “it is time for me, as an academic and mentor to many young people of our country, to focus on contributing and providing leadership at my new academic home, the University of Cape Town.”
The convocation’s role is “to discuss and state its opinion upon any matter relating to the university” said the Wits Alumni Relations office.
In her announcement, Phakeng also commented on the current fees protests and said the “higher education sector is in crisis”.
“I support the call for free quality decolonised education. Universal access to education is a right and not a privilege. Many black students leave higher education in our country each year because of financial or academic exclusion,” said Phakeng.
In a response to the recent protests on campus Phakeng said: “This situation we find ourselves in is not about who is wrong and who is right. We cannot afford to fiddle while Rome is burning. Our problem is much bigger than just the burning of buses and buildings. We have to understand and make sense of the deep anger in our society – violently expressed in the burning of buildings and destruction of anachronistic symbols. ”
Phakeng also called for ther end to the police and private security on campus towards ending the protest.
“The first step is to demilitarise our universities in order to allow a safe space for learning, dissent and free engagement on the socio-economic issues that plague our country. Heavy presence of private security and police can turn a peaceful protest into anarchy and transform our universities into war-zones. I believe that there’s a role that students need to play in order to achieve this,” said Phakeng.