‘I would make the same decision again’

WITS University vice-chancellor Prof Adam Habib faced down criticism of how he had handled the #FeesMustFall protests, and other “misrepresentations” in his latest book, Rebels and Rage, at its launch in Hyde Park on Wednesday, March 13.

A group of about 20 people who identified themselves as students took Habib to task over his decision to call police onto campus during the 2016 #FMF protests.

Prof Habib defended his decision, saying, he had called police onto campus because of the responsibility he had to ensure the safety and security of the entire Wits community, and that 77% of students who had taken part in an SMS poll conducted by the university, had indicated that they wanted to complete the academic year.

“If I was faced with the same circumstances and the same conditions, I would make the same decision again as it was the progressive and right decision under those circumstances,” he told the Exclusive Books audience.

His critics were having none of his explanations, and were robust in their engagement. “You are a skilful liar … you are a very, very violent man,” said one, much to the displeasure of the audience that heckled him.
The young man was not fazed, and challenged the VC to host an assembly at the university to allow students to engage with him about the book. Afterwards, he told Wits Vuvuzela that he was a student at Wits, but wouldn’t give his name.

Former Wits Student Representative Council (SRC) member and All Residence Council chairperson, Willie Muhlarhi, said that he had attended the launch to call Prof Habib to account for “misrepresenting the role of student leadership” during #FMF.

In the book, Prof Habib is critical of student leaders and academics he characterised as being “far-left”. He accuses student leaders of being often absent from efforts to provide solutions. As an example, he says the most progressive funding model that was brought to the university was created by a group of accounting students, who were not part of student leadership.

This is inaccurate, according to Muhlarhi, who is studying towards a masters in finance. “Habib fails to mention that there were SRC and student committee members involved in creating the model submitted by the accounting students, which shows a lack of research on his part.”

Students are not the only critics of Habib’s book. Former Wits anthropology lecturer, Dr Kelly Gillespie, who is named in the book as being one of the far-left academics, told Wits Vuvuzela that Prof Habib had misrepresented her and progressive lecturers’ actions and motives during the protests.

“It’s incredibly irresponsible for him to argue [progressive lecturers] were proponents of, or encouraging violence when 99% of the time we were there, we were trying to reduce violence and calm things down on both sides. He is creating extremely partial accounts that are very dangerous, and for some it feels he’s creating conditions for [academics] to be watched by state security,” Gillespie said.

Prof Habib has disputed the claims that he misrepresented #FMF events. “I wanted to correct the narrative of Fees Must Fall being pushed by politicians that the vice-chancellors are these neoliberals while the student activists are progressives who are the only ones committed to the goal of free education. That simply isn’t true,” he told Wits Vuvuzela.

Wits will host an event for Rebels and Rage, Prof Habib told the audience at the book launch, but details will be announced later.

FEATURED PHOTO: Wits vice-chancellor Prof Adam Habib responded to criticisms that he had misrepresented events and prominent figures during the #FeesMustFall protests at the launch of his book, Rebels and Rage hosted in Hyde Park.
Photo: Naledi Mashishi

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Reach for the African sky

BOOK SMART: Second-year student Bhaso Ndzendze reads a verse of his newly published book Africa: The Continent We Construct. Photo: Ilanit Chernick

BOOK SMART: Second-year student Bhaso Ndzendze reads a verse of his newly
published book Africa: The Continent We Construct. Photo: Ilanit Chernick

Bhaso Ndzendze is not your average 19-year-old.

The second year BA student already has a book professionally published. His book Africa: The Continent We Construct looks at how Africa attempts to define herself too much by comparing herself with the rest of the world.

Ndzendze wrote this book for the same reason “silkworms make silks” meaning that it is his “responsibility as an individual” to understand and make sense of the environment “in which we function” and be productive in it.

“As Africans we are still finding our feet,” he said.

The youngest of four brothers, Ndzendze grew up in both parts of KwaZulu-Natal and parts of the Eastern Cape and finally settled in Johannesburg when he was 16.

“My parents moved around a lot for work related reasons so when they moved we moved with them.”

“As Africans we are still finding our feet,” he said.

He describes his upbringing to be one of “pious Catholicism”.

Ndzendze who is currently studying psychology, politics and international relations at Wits hopes to be a journalist one day.

“If that doesn’t work out than I hope to be involved in public service. I want to get involved with charity organisations like UNICEF and the World Health Organisation to help make life easier for Africans.”

When Ndzendze is not writing books, he enjoys reading, writing poetry computer programming, listening to music and visiting museums and art galleries.

His vision for Africa is one that does not aim to settle its predecessors “score” but rather focuses on fighting for its’ children and its future.

“We should not be focusing on what we want and what was done to us, we should focus on what needs to be done,” he said.

Ndzendze has a strong message for Witsies and hopes they will “embrace equality and contribute for the betterment of our society”.

“Whatever you are doing, you should always act in a way where no harm will come from it.”