Wits 11 refuse to carry out community service

SRC vice president-internal Tokelo Nhlapo, promised that they (SRC), would give Wits Vice-chancellor a “political baptism”. Photo: Nolwazi Mjwara

WE REFUSE: Tokelo Nhlapo, one of the Wits 11 says the group will not comply with the community service sentence. Photo: Nolwazi Mjwara

The Wits 11, students disciplined by Wits University for the disruption of a concert last year, are maintaining their refusal to carry out their sentence.

The students were charged with, and found guilty of, misconduct after interrupting the Yossi Reshef concert (held at Wits) and ordered to do 80 hours of community service.  But according to the vice-chancellor’s office, only one of the eleven is making arrangements to do so.

“We are not prepared to do business with Zionists who kill Palestinian women and children” said Tokelo Nhlapo, one of the students.

Nhlapo said the university used a policy from 1988 to charge them and believes the ruling was illegal and unconstitutional in the new South Africa.

He told Wits Vuvuzela that the 11 are pursuing every option available. “We are in contact with a constitutional judge who is willing to review our charge,” he said.

According to an email from the vice-chancellor’s office signed by Kanina Foss (acting communications manager), the Wits 11 risk not completing their degrees if the community service is not carried out.  They “will not be deemed to have met the requirements of the University for completion of their degrees” if they do not comply with their sentence, read the email.

In response, Nhlapo told Wits Vuvuzela he does not believe that the university will succeed in sentencing them for a crime they did not commit. He said, “We believe what we did was in the interest of the University.”

He added that one of the 11, Aphelele Phindani, already graduated in March and therefore they “refuse to comply with every fibre in their bodies.”

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Savernake will stay in the hands of Wits

TWO VC’s SPEAK: Incoming Vice Chancellor Prof Adam Habib and outgoing Vice Chancellor Prof Loyiso Nongxa addressed the media on Monday regarding the spending on the VC’s official residence. Photo: Ray Mahlaka

TWO VC’s SPEAK: Incoming Vice Chancellor Prof Adam Habib and outgoing Vice Chancellor Prof Loyiso Nongxa addressed the media on Monday regarding the spending on the VC’s official residence. Photo: Ray Mahlaka

UNCERTAINTY surrounding the refurbishments of Savernake, the house provided for Wits vice chancellor, was the subject of a news briefing held on Monday by incoming Vice Chancellor Prof Adam Habib.

“The house belongs to the trust of the Price family and was made available for the use of Wit’s vice chancellor some 40 years ago. The terms of the agreement are that it has to be returned to the Price family should the vice chancellor not live in it,” said a statement from the office of the Vice Chancellor.

Habib, who is not yet residing at Savernake, stressed at the media briefing that the house is not only a home for the VC but a venue that is used to host a number of university functions.

However, Savernake, which is still registered under the Price family trust has “not been adequately maintained and has fallen into serious disrepair over the years.”

The cost of refurbishments to the house

was settled at R12 million, but was later cut down to R9 million after a meeting convened by Habib with the representatives of the unions, the SRC and the senate representatives to Wits Council.

The Star recently published an article that criticised the decision to renovate Savernake by stating “[The] University is prepared to spend at least R9 million on renovating the vice-chancellor’s official residence, [when] desperate students sleep on chairs.”

Habib said that the university is aware that there are students without homes and who have financial problems: “We will do our best within our means to help them but we must abide by public laws of heritage too.”

The reason the cost of refurbishment is so high is because the house is a heritage site and there are certain laws surrounding the renovation procedures of it.

“There are explicit rules of how to renovate it and it can only be repaired by a select group of artisans and service providers,” Habib said.

Tawana Kupe, deputy vice chancellor for finance and operations said that it has been agreed with the Price family trust that the property, worth R30 million, will be transferred to Wits University should the renovations proceed.

“We are not paying the Price family a single rand for the house. We will not buy the house,” Kupe said.

“NEW PARADIGM” NEEDED AGAINST SEXUAL HARASSMENT: NEW VC

Incoming Vice Chancellor Prof Adam Habib has acknowledged the university needs “a new paradigm” for pursuing perpetrators of sexual harassment, he said in an interview with the Vuvuzela.

“The difficulty has therefore been sustaining the case against these individuals. I understand the difficulties of doing so. But this has been a challenge,” said Habib.

“Clearly we need a new paradigm for addressing these violations.”

Referring to students’ reluctance of coming forward, Habib said he understands the difficulties of doing so, but that this has been a challenge for the university.

Habib, who will be taking over as acting vice chancellor in May, shared his thoughts on the sexual harassment scandal that has invaded the Wits campus.

He told Vuvuzela via email on Wednesday that, “The University definitely has to throw the full force of the law at anyone who has been found to be guilty of sexual harassment.”

When asked about the difficulties in addressing sexual harassment within Wits, Habib said it was crucial for the university to create an environment where students feel safe to report and charge anyone who has violated their rights.

“If we cannot create a safe and enabling learning environment, then we have failed in our primary function at the university” he said.

“Clearly we need a new paradigm for addressing these violations,” he said.

Habib added that he hopes the new sexual harassment policy will be able to address this.

He is currently away in the United States with incumbent Vice Chancellor Loyiso Nongxa.

Habib said that while they were in being away in the US with the current VC, Prof Loyisa Nongxa. IN their absence, he has asked senior female university officials to meet with students.

“The VCO [vice-chancellor’s office] has asked its senior women executives to host a meeting with students to hear their challenges in this regard, and what else we can do as an institution.”

He also said that if needed he and Nongxa will host another meeting with women students and staff, upon their return.

“In the meantime, the senate is in the process of making a statement condemning lecturers who have been involved in this.

“What is imperative is that the safety of our learning environment must be enhanced, as must the trust relationships between our academics and our students,” Habib concluded.