Classes at Wits University were disrupted on the first day of the academic year.
A GROUP of about 200 students, led by the Wits Student Representative Council (SRC), disrupted lectures on Monday morning, February 4, in an attempt to shut down the Wits main campus.
The SRC said the protest was in response to a statement released by the university on Sunday, saying only students with debts of R10 000 and less would be allowed to register for 2019.
“As per the Council-approved concessions for 2019 below, only students who owe the university R10 000 or less will be allowed to roll over their debt and to register this year. These students will also be required to sign an Acknowledgement of Debt form and make arrangements with the university to pay off the debt,” read the statement, signed by vice principal Andrew Crouch.
It said the university could not afford “to allow student debt to accumulate as this will result in the university not remaining financially sustainable”.
The statement contradicted what was agreed at a meeting held on Thursday, January 31, according to the SRC, which says the figure agreed to was R100 000.
SRC president Sisanda Mbolekwa told Wits Vuvuzela that, “We met with the dean (of students, Jerome September) on Thursday, we tabled our demands to the vice principal as well. He (Crouch) agreed to these concessions, come Sunday night he releases a counter-statement telling students they can’t register anymore.”
However, according to Crouch, agreements reached at Thursday’s meeting only applied to the Hardship Fund.
The protesting students congregated inside Solomon Mahlangu House before storming lecture halls across East Campus.
One lecturer, Nompumelelo Seme, showed solidarity with the protesting students who entered her property law lecture in Umthombo building, by adjourning her class.
“I think that as property law students and law students in general, we should be concerned more about justice,” Seme told her class.
“These are causes we cannot turn a blind eye to. I apologise to those of you who feel a sense of discomfort but these are real issues,” she added.
The protesters then proceeded to West Campus where they clashed with private security and disrupted lectures at the Science Stadium before returning to Solomon Mahlangu to debrief.
The SRC has vowed to continue with the protests until the university reverses its decision.
“We’re saying that no students should be in class while other students are excluded and not registered, that’s why we are going around classes. No classes must happen until our demands are met,” Mbolekwa said.
The disciplinary hearing of the five Wits Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) and two other students who were suspended after the Great Hall fight has been postponed because they were charged with rules that no longer exist.
Wits EFF members at the men’s res march. Photo: Tanisha Hieberg
At the disciplinary hearing which was held on September 16 Advocate Dali Mpofu, representing the students, pointed out the rules the students were charged with were out of date. He presented the disciplinary committee with the new set of rules that had been adopted by University Council in April 2015.
The new General Rules for Student Conduct makes allowance for students to disrupt “classes, meetings or any other activities of the university” if such conduct is reasonably directed towards the exercise of the right to assemble, to demonstrate and picket peacefully and unarmed.
“none of the suspended seven actually have charges against them.”
Speaking to Wits Vuvuzela, Deputy Vice-Chancellor Andrew Crouch confirmed that the seven students were charged under the old rules of conduct. He said that this was an “administrative error” which does not change the university’s stance on the matter.
“Anything that results in violence is deemed to be misconduct,” he said.
The charges follow an SRC debate on August 18. Wits EFF interrupted the proceedings by getting on the Great Hall stage and singing struggle songs. This resulted in an altercation between the various political parties turning violent. Following this, seven students were suspended most of whom were Wits EFF members.
Vuyani Pambo briefing EFF members after the great brawl
Anele Nzimande, a Wits EFF member, said based on the video footage they reviewed, none of the suspended Wits EFF members were involved in the violence.
“In fact it was Project W who tried to physically remove our members from the Great Hall stage,” she said.
Nzimande added that since the charges are being amended “none of the suspended seven actually have charges against them.”
In a letter written to academic and administrative staff, Politics doctoral student Lwazi Lushaba, one of the suspended students, said that the disciplinary charges under the an old code of conduct had serious implications. He said the disciplinary hearings were “an issue that is now costing the university hundreds of thousands of Rands, has exposed the inefficiency of the Legal Office of the university but has also questioned the integrity of the university itself.”
The suspended students will be served with new charges by Friday, September 25 and the disciplinary hearing will resume on November 30.
FEES FREEZE: Wits has backed recommendations made by the SRC to freeze the upfront fees for 2015. Photo: Luca Kotton
by Luca Kotton and Roxanne Joseph
The upfront fee for next year will remain frozen at R9 350 but it and other fees may still increase in 2016, according to deputy vice-chancellor of finance, Prof Tawana Kupe.
The university had proposed an increase of the upfront registration fee to R10 300 from R9 350. General tuition fees will still increase.
When asked if the freeze will have an effect on the following year’s upfront fee, Kupe said, “In 2015, we will go through the normal processes for setting the various fees, including the upfront fee payment for 2016.”
The upfront fee free was the result of a long process of negotiations by the SRC which reached an agreement with the University Financial Committee (FINCO) surrounding fee increases in 2015, said SRC president Shafee Verachia.
The agreement was reached just over a week ago at a meeting with FINCO, and will be forward for approval to the University Council, which Vice-chancellor Prof Adam Habib, Verachia and Deputy Vice-chancellor, Prof Andrew Crouch, among others.
Verachia said the SRC successfully negotiated the freeze by commissioning a team of postgrad accounting and actuarial science students to investigate whether or not the upfront fee was unnecessarily high.
Kupe said the freeze is based on a further assessment made by FINCO, which has enabled them to recommend that the university is able to accommodate a freeze in the upfront fee and will not lose any income because “the freeze in the upfront fee amount is not a discount on the fees for 2015”.
He said there was recognition that some fees, such as the Health Sciences degrees, Wits has become too expensive and have been reduced. This is especially significant for international students, who were only allowed to pay their tuition fees in a set of instalments for the first time this year.
Currently, international students studying health sciences will have their fees cut by 60 percent, dropping to R74 680 from about R191 990.
The university had previously justified the increase of the upfront fee by saying it had high costs at the beginning of the year. Kupe said fee increases were necessary due to rising costs.
“Fees have to increase every year because of rising costs, the fact that our government subsidy is not rising as much as inflation and that some of our costs are related to items that are imported,” Kupe told Wits Vuvuzela.
“As you know, the rand has fallen against major currencies and this fall increases our costs. We also have to ensure we have enough financial resources to offer a quality education.”
David Hornsby, International Relations lecturer who chaired the debate (left), with Prof Rob Moore, Deputy Vice Chancellor: Advancement and Partnerships.
The dispute between Wits management and unions is not a short-term fix, and should be addressed “very consciously and deliberately” by incoming members of the Senior Executive Team, according to Prof Rob Moore.
The Deputy Vice Chancellor (DVC): Advancement and Partnerships was speaking at a Leadership Forum, organised by the Academic Staff Association of Wits University (ASAWU) on Monday, to debate the type of leadership needed at Wits.
The SET will undergo major changes soon, with the DVC: Academic, Prof Yunus Ballim, and the DVC: Finance and Operations, Prof Patrick Fitzgerald, vacating their offices at the end of this year.
Vice Chancellor Prof Loyiso Nongxa will end his extended five-year term in May 2013, and his post has been advertised as a vacancy.
Speaking in his personal capacity, Moore said the dispute had created a stressful time, but it was commendable that academics could have heated debates with management in Senate meetings, and still enjoy tea and sandwiches “in a perfectly amiable manner at tea time”.
Witsies at the forum said the new members of the SET needed to focus as much on the practical needs of the university as they would on strategic planning.
Pontsho Pilane, 1st year BA, said the ideal vice chancellor was someone who had been a student and a lecturer long enough to know what the “gist” of Wits was.
“We need a leader who values the fact that the academic staff and students run the university, and if it wasn’t for them, there wouldn’t be a Wits University.”
The race is on
Short-listed candidates for the DVC: Academic post delivered public presentations on Tuesday.
Prof Kuzvinetsa Dzvimbo, currently Executive Dean of the College of Education at the University of South Africa, said he was “very, very” interested in having a childcare facility for staff use on campus: a joint demand by Wits’ three unions in the current dispute.
Dzvimbo, who holds degrees from Sierra Leonean and Nigerian universities, said Wits needed to strengthen its relationships with other universities on the continent.
Prof Tahir Pillay, former Deputy Vice Chancellor at the University of KwaZulu-Natal, said Wits must also look eastwards, and not forget that all of the top 100 universities are not in Europe and North America.
Prof Andrew Crouch, Dean of Science, said Wits was nearing the end of a phase of heavy infrastructural investment (R1.5bn in the past few years), and needed to build “academic proficiency on top of that infrastructure”.
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