‘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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Students meeting in Solomon House to discuss way forward

 

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Wits students enter central block through broken door.                                                                                     Photo: Tendani Mulaudzi

Wits students have occupied and are holding a meeting in Solomon House–previously known as Senate House–having broken down a door to gain access after they were denied entry by security guards and police officers.

The students are expected to hold a meeting to discuss the way forward. Earlier, incoming Student Representative Council (SRC) president Kefentse Mkhari annouced that Wits would be shut down because students want “free education now”. This after Higher Education Minister Blade Nzimande’s announcement that fees should increase by a maximum of 8% for students whose families make more than R600,000 a year.

The meeting is set to outline the merits of further protest.  Outgoing SRC deputy president Motheo Broddie said they would not prevent people from speaking as all students were allowed to raise their voice at the meeting.

In the afternoon following Nzimande’s announcement, some students wearing Progressive Youth Alliance (PYA) t-shirts prevented student activist and Economic Freedom Fighters member Simamkele Dlakavu from speaking. Dlakavu told Wits Vuvuzela that she wanted to raise a point of clarity regarding what they are going to be striking for. She said the end goal should be made clear because last year during FeesMustFall protests students were striking for free education and insourcing of workers but said the PYA ended the strike although workers had also not been insourced and only a zero-percent increase announced. “ I will only be shutting down for free education, de-colonised education and the dignity of black workers,” said Dlakavu.

Broddie denied that anyone was intentionally prevented from speaking but said the earlier meeting was “chaotic” and proper procedure was not followed.

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Division over free accommodation at Wits

Affected students in a meeting with acting Dean of Students Lamese Abrahams discussing amongst other things, the plan to accommodate students preparing for exams. Photo: Michelle Gumede

Affected students in a meeting with acting Dean of Students Lamese Abrahams discussing amongst other things, the plan to accommodate students preparing for exams. Photo: Michelle Gumede

by Masego Panyane and Michelle Gumede

HUNDREDS of Wits students will be temporarily accommodated for free after being left homeless on campus over the festive season, squatting in libraries and computer labs to prepare for their supplementary and deferred examinations.

This comes after the entire end-of-year examination timetable was reshuffled due to the #FeesMustFall protests that rocked the country late last year. Supplementary and deferred exam dates were pushed back to early January and many students stayed on campus to prepare. But many were left without accommodation as residences closed on December 1.

In protest against their lack of accommodation, many of the affected students with the Wits Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) and Wits Fees Must Fall (FMF) staged a sit-in at the Senate House concourse, also known as Solomon House.

On Monday January 4, several Student Representative Council (SRC) members met with representatives from the All Res Council, the university administration and Wits EFF to agree that students writing deferred and supplementary exams would be accommodated on campus.

SRC projects, media and campaigns officer Mzwanele Ntshwanti said the SRC left for holidays on December 23. When the SRC arrived on campus in early January, they received and processed a list of the homeless compiled by a few students who had been staying in the library, concourse and computer labs.  Ntshwanti said the SRC were already prepared that there might be a situation where a bulk of students would come from all over the country to write their exams.  However, he said preparations stalled over how much it would cost the university.

“Conversations were started, they were just never concluded because the university was like ‘It’s gonna be costly and they were not willing to take the cost’,” Ntshwanti said.

This week’s agreement allows for 500 students, 300 male and 200 female, to be accommodated at Men’s Res and Jubilee respectively. Ntshwanti estimates the accommodation will cost the SRC R181 per night per student.

University officials could not be reached for comment by Wits Vuvuzela as of the time of posting this article.

Vuyani Pambo of Wits EFF said his organisation spent their holidays staging a sit in at Mens res, studying and consulting with students on possible solutions regarding the academic year ahead. Pambo says during their interaction with students it became more apparent that many students were on campus studying and doing vacation work to save up for their fees while being without accommodation.

On December 28, the Wits EFF staged a “let in” at Mens Res, where they opened up the residence for all homeless student which lead to conflict with campus control.

Pambo said they occupied Men’s Res only after attempting, unsuccessfully, to negotiate for accommodation for the homeless students with the university.

Although campus control was called to the Men’s Res, the students were never removed from the res and students are now coming in to sign up for accommodation since the agreement was publicised on social media by both the SRC and Wits EFF.

The procedure is that students have to go to cluster head Doreen Musemwa at Jubilee residence the day before their allocated exam date where their status for a deferred or supplementary exam is verified. Students must then go to the SRC offices to fill out forms and then they can then move into res. Students can stay at res until the day after their exam and will receive breakfast daily at the main dining hall for the duration of their stay.

Third-year mining student, Albert Sefadi* said that learning about the agreement on Facebook, he drove to Johannesburg from Mahikeng to sign up for the accommodation before his exam date. However, he says when he got to Jubilee on Tuesday he found that Musemwa was not around and he had to sleep in his car.

Sefadi was later assisted by the SRC on Wednesday and had completed all his paperwork, ready to move into his room by 10am.

There are some students who are distrustful of the arrangement. Rendani Dumah* a final-year education student and Wits FMF member decided to not take the offered accommodation.

“I don’t want to have the SRC telling people that they did stuff for me when they didn’t do anything,” said Dumah.

As of Friday, the occupation of Senate House has continued despite the dean of students sent the FMF group a letter demanding they leave the concourse.

*Affected students requested that Wits Vuvuzela change their names.