Prof Adam Habib addresses Wits University at his book launch, Rebels and Rage, on Tuesday, August 6.

UPDATE (12.08.2019): This article was updated to include responses from Prof Adam Habib which were received after the paper had gone to print.

The Wits University launch of Vice-Chancellor (VC) Professor Adam Habib’s book, Rebels And Rage, was described as disappointing, much to the dismay of Wits students, when compared with the engaging and rowdy Hyde Park launch in March.

The launch on Tuesday, August 6 in the Senate Room at Solomon Mahlangu House was attended by about 150 people, with only about 20 students. The room was not filled, despite a number of individuals being told the event had reached full capacity after trying to secure a seat.

Postgraduate diploma in management student Azra Karim, former SRC member, told Wits Vuvuzela, “If Prof Habib was genuine about his inclusion of student voices he would have held it at the Great Hall during lunch hour and would have collaborated with the SRC to get students to know about it. Even he was shocked, saying he thought he would see more students.”

Responding to questions from Wits Vuvuzela, Habib said the event was oversubscribed, which was why a live-stream was made available on Youtube.

“We wanted to limit the numbers to 200 both because this is the number that can be accommodated in the Senate Room and it enables a thoughtful engagement. An event in the Great Hall, for instance, would not have allowed for a thoughtful intellectual engagement,” Habib told Wits Vuvuzela.

“My interest is not in political spectacle but rather, as the head of a research-intensive university, to enable thoughtful discourse that can provide lessons for enabling inclusion within our University and the broader society,” he said. 

The lack of student presence at the event did not deter the night’s proceedings. Habib took three rounds of questions from the audience about his book, which details his experience of the 2015/16 Fees Must Fall (#FMF) protests on campus. The book has attracted criticism for its alleged misrepresentation of the #FMF movement.

A lecturer in the department of social work, Tlale Nathane, who was on the ground during the #FMF movement assisting wounded students, challenged Habib on his characterisation of the protests.

“My disappointment was how in militarising campus, black bodies were violated in this space. I would walk into a building I was about to lecture in and I would be stopped because I am a black body, but my white colleagues would be allowed to go through. Therefore we remain a highly divided community as Wits academic staff members,” Nathane said.

Habib said he called police onto campus because he had to ensure the safety and security of the Wits community, who had indicated via a poll that they wanted to complete the academic year.

Using an analogy of the vice-chancellor as the father of the household, Nathane said Habib had opened the door wide to private security and the police.

Habib responded by saying he is an “executive who must show empathy”.

“I do not believe the vice-chancellor plays the role of the father. I am not here to become a father of 37 000. It is impossible and it actually detracts from the strategic role I am here to play. This is an R8-billion institution. You need to be an executive with empathy, but you do not play the role of the father,” he said.

Raees Noorbhai, an astrophysics masters student, told Wits Vuvuzela, “Following his launch at Hyde Park, Habib’s engagement with students was not disappointing, because disappointment requires expectations.

“At this point we have come to expect both the condescending tone of his engagement and the content of his arguments, which continue to analyse the response – the rage – of students, without truly attempting to understand its cause.”

The event closed with a book signing by the author.  

FEATURED IMAGE: Vice-chancellor Prof Adam Habib speaks about his book, Rebels and Rage, at the Wits University launch on Tuesday, August 6 with Redi Tlhabi. Photo: Provided