Action comes after plea for the university to extend the 72-hour deadline to vacate residences is denied.

Two Wits University students have gone to court to stop the institution from enforcing a 72-hour deadline on residence students to vacate their rooms.

Law students Lerato Moela and Matsobane Shaun Matlhwana launched an urgent application in the Johannesburg High Court on Tuesday, March 17, to interdict the university from proceeding with the evacuation until students have been tested for, and cleared, of the coronavirus.

As part of its decision to go into early recess from today, March 17, the Wits Senior Executive Team announced last night that residence students would be given 72 hours to vacate all university residences.

In a letter circulated among students via Whatsapp, which Wits Vuvuzela has verified to have come from Moela and Mathlwana, they said that it is common knowledge that Wits has had a positive case of Covid-19 and, “this (72 hour evacuation period) appears as if the university is letting loose the potentially infected students to the society”. The court application asks for more time to assess the potential number of affected students within the residence community.

In the letter, the students said, “[The two of them] wish to humbly ask the university to extend the evacuation period to allow the process that would assure the communities that they are not being compromised”.

Themba Mabena, a postgraduate law student who lives in res said, “I don’t think that the 72 hours we are given to vacate our residences is fair, especially seeing that it’s a short notice. Some are living very far and since we are in the middle of the month some students may not afford to go home due to being broke.”

Another student, Siyasanga Kwinana, in third-year BA law, said she was concerned about students being exposed to Covid-19.

“Students with the means to go home, if they are not going to be flying will probably be using another form of public transport, which will expose the [students] to people who may or may not have contracted the disease,” she said.

Wits Vuvuzela had not been able to reach the university’s management at the time of publishing. However, via its Twitter account, the university said: “Wits University will oppose the application by two students to interdict the evacuation of students from residences. They initiated this action without knowing the detail and their case is based on false information. They must also carry the costs of this frivolous action.

“This is an irresponsible, reckless act which obstructs the fight against Covid-19 and is in contravention of the state’s strategy and protocol to address the pandemic. Cyril Ramaphosa has said that we need to look beyond this kind of selfishness and political attention-seeking,” said one of the tweets.

Wits Vuvuzela asked Moela whether he was positive about their chances. “Chances in a legal dispute can go either way. The reason we took the legal route is to hold the University accountable,” he said.

Moela also said that this was in no way a reckless act against the university. “This is not malicious. If the university wins, I have to pay the legal costs.”

FEATURED IMAGE: Notice of motion: in the matter between two Wits law students and Wits University in request for 72 hour vacate period to be extended. Photo: source