Major universities take precautionary measures by closing down while others choose to remain open.

By Lwazi Maseko and Gemma Gatticchi

A number of universities across the country have chosen to cancel classes after President Cyril Ramaphosa declared a national state of disaster in light of the coronavirus. Ramaphosa, speaking at the Union Buildings on Sunday, March 15, said that measures will be put into place that are proportionate, “to the severity of the threat to our people, to our society and to our economy”. By the time of going to print, South Africa has registered 61 confirmed cases of coronavirus.

While the President did not declare the closure of institutions of higher learning, both Wits University and the University of Cape Town (UCT) cancelled classes for Monday, March 16, as both had confirmed cases of coronavirus among their communities. At Wits a medical student was confirmed to be positive for coronavirus on Sunday, March 15, and may have inadvertently exposed close to 350 students in her class to the virus while a member of staff at UCT was also found to be positive this weekend. Both individuals are currently in isolation.

UCT says it will remain closed indefinitely while Wits is expected to make an announcement of its plans for the rest of the term later today.

In the meantime, Wits has postponed upcoming graduations whilst UCT has suspended graduations until further notice.

UCT has taken further measures by instructing students living in residences to vacate in 72 hours, in light of “the declaration of a national disaster”. The UCT SRC rejected the decision by the university in a statement released on Sunday, March 15 on its Twitter profile. The SRC said that the expectation of students to book busses and flights home was an “elitist, anti-black move that affects more than it assists”. Adding that “many students have limited access to healthcare services at home, therefore are better-off remaining at the university”. The SRC appealed to the university to allow students to remain in residences and self-isolate.

Other universities which will close with immediate effect include the University of Johannesburg, University of KwaZulu-Natal and Rhodes University. The University of Pretoria has postponed all tests and assessments for the day whilst Nelson Mandela University has chosen to remain open.The university of the Western Cape has confirmed that its academic programme will continue as planned.

Wits has instructed students living in residences to self-isolate, wash their hands regularly and keep a safe social distance but students ignored the call. Students took to the streets of Braamfontein late on Sunday, March 15, to celebrate the cancellation of classes and to party with each other.

By Monday though, the celebratory atmosphere had died down with many students choosing to remain inside their residence rooms and apartments leaving the campus largely deserted.

The Minister of Higher Education, Blade Nzimande, is expected to meet representatives of tertiary institutions on March 17 to chart a way forward.

FEATURED IMAGE: Wits students stay away from campus after the university cancelled classes on Monday, March 16. Photo: Thobekile Moyo.