No prosecution for arrested Wits protesters

 

Student who were arrested earlier today as part of the Fees Must Fall protest that took place at Wits University will not be prosecuted for their charges and will be released.

The group of 31, who mostly belong to Men’s Res, are being held at the Hillbrow Police Station as they await their release, which is expected to be at 4pm today.

The protesters were arrested for “contravening a court interdict,” according to the Hillbrow Police Station’s spokesperson Mduduzi Zondo. The court order prevents anyone from obstructing the entering or exiting of any person, “or any of its buildings, facilities, residences, halls, classrooms and the like”.

Vuyani Pambo, a member of the Wits Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), said that he could not supply the names of the arrested students. However, he could confirm that Koketso Poho, chairperson of the Wits EFF, was part of the group who were arrested and was injured in the process.

“Once all the 31 students were processed, then the dockets were taken to the senior prosecutor for advice to see if they would prosecute on the case,” said Florencia Belvedere, an attorney from Lawyers for Human Rights whom is working on the case.

Belvedere said that the senior prosecutor then agreed not to prosecute and agreed to allow the students to be released.

“The issue remains however whether there is some grounds to carry the court order because today the students are released but tomorrow, they demonstrate again and we could be back here again,” said Belvedere.

 

 

Testing time for SRC elections

NEW LEADERSHIP: Witsies queue to vote in SRC elections held on campuses this week. Photo: Nokuthula Zwane

NEW LEADERSHIP: Witsies queue to vote in SRC elections held on campuses this week. Photo: Nokuthula Zwane

CAMPAIGNING for the highly contested Wits 2016/2017 SRC elections during test week has been a strain for some student political organisations. (more…)

Disciplinary hearing postponed for #WitsSeven

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

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

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.

New Student Rules of Conduct

New Student Rules of Conduct

new rules pg2

OPINION: Seven things we’ve learned from the #EFF7

Wits Vuvuzela journalist, Sibongile Machika, looks back at the suspension, and then court challenge of the EFF7 and suggests seven lessons to take away from the saga.

1. “Habib must fall”

The Wits EFF (Economic Freedom Fighters) has called for the fall of  Professor Adam Habib on a number of occassions demonstrating a growing dissatisfaction with the vice chancellor and principal of the university.

Adam Habib Wits University Vice Chancellor says it is not often that universities in South Africa receive funding of this magnitude.Normally  from sole philanthropists. The funding for universities is largely  sourced from corporates and state funding agencies locally, and international trusts and foundations

Adam Habib Wits University Vice Chancellor. Photo: Wits Vuvuzela.

 

The suspension of the seven students, most of whom were EFF aligned, was completely within Wits rules and procedures. Yet the court found that this decision violated the students’ right to education.  How can a university, a place that is meant to shape the minds of our future leaders have laws that contradict our treasured constitution? What does this say about our universities and the people that govern them?  Surely it is reasonable that such leaders must “fall”.

2. Choose your friends carefully

VICTORIOUS: Wits EFF members and Advocate Dali Mpofu celebrate outside the South Gauteng court, after their suspension from the university was overturned. Photo: Michelle Gumede

VICTORIOUS: Wits EFF members and Advocate Dali Mpofu celebrate outside the South Gauteng court, after their suspension from the university was overturned. Photo: Michelle Gumede

 

Had this been any other group of students involved in a fight or disruption, they would probably have turned on each other at the first sign of suspension. The relationship between the Wits EFF members is strengthened by their commitment to a shared political ideology. Under the leadership of Vuyani Pambo they fought together for a common cause through thick and thin.

3. Stick to your guns

Vuyani Pambo briefing EFF members after the great brawl

Vuyani Pambo briefing EFF members after the great brawl. Photo: Sibongile Machika

 

Throughout the threats, the fights and even suspensions, the Wits EFF members stood firm in the beliefs. They continuously defended the stance that Wits management shifts some of their responsibilities and decision-making to the SRC (Student Representative Council).

4. Timing is everything

Stopwatch2

Although the suspended students are back at university, they still have to face the consequences of their actions. Facing a disciplinary hearing so close to the exams is never a good idea, the outcome could have huge implications on their future at Wits.

 

5. Struggle songs are still sung

We’ve all learnt at least one struggle song from the Wits EFF members.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SOwND4wIEhQ

6. Black lives still don’t matter

Lulu_20150826__MG_6180

Wits EFF members waiting for the keys to their rooms at Wits Senate House. Photo: Sibongile Machika

 

Some of the suspended students lived at Wits University residences as they hail from outside the Gauteng province. When the students were suspended, they were kicked out of res but there was little consideration for where they would stay and what they would eat. Granted, they are all adults who must think about the implications of the actions but education is a holistic experience.

The living circumstances of students must always be considered in both teaching and disciplining students.

7. Youth drives change

 

Wits EFF members at the men's res march. Photo: Tanisha Hieberg

Wits EFF members at the men’s res march. Photo: Tanisha Hieberg

 

Wits EFF students and the rest of the students driving the transformation across South Africa have inspired the nation in the same way that the class of ’76 did. No matter what happens now, there is no going back.

Free expression does not include violence

A protest at an SRC debate at the Great Hall that ended in a fight is not necessarily protected freedom of expression, according to two free speech experts contacted by Wits Vuvuzela.

Last week Tuesday a physical fight broke out at the Great Hall between Project W, Progressive Youth Alliance (PYA) and Wits Economic Freedom Fighters’ (EFF) after the Wits EFF disrupted the SRC Great Debate with a protest.

This led to the debate being cancelled by the organisers, days later the seven students who were present for the protest and ensuing brawl were suspended.

This raises questions as to whether the Wits EFF had their freedom of expression compromised as they were at first expressing themselves through singing and dancing.

“I don’t think freedom of expression includes the right to physically disrupt the election process, including what appeared to be threats or real physical violence,” said Anton Harber, chair of the Freedom of Expression Institute.

He said that when students enter in a process such as the SRC elections they have to accept a set of conduct and rules.

“You have to operate within those rules or challenge those rules but, no, freedom of expression does not include the right to disrupt elections for example or physically threaten other people, other candidates,” said Harber.

William Bird, the director of Media Monitoring Africa, said that instead of having their own freedom of expression compromised, the Wits EFF compromised the freedom of other students.

“That said some rights can legitimately be limited if the students who were suspended were themselves violent they sought to limit other people’s right to freedom of expression by effectively shutting down a peaceful debate.”

The university later used the Twitter accounts of the Wits EFF members for the investigation, a move that the organisation said was unfair.

Bird said that if the comments had been intercepted online or had been private then it would have been a violation of their freedom of expression and right to privacy.

“But if it is the case that the comments were tweets in the public domain then I don’t see how them being used in a hearing for or against them could be a limitation on them,” said Bird.

Harber said that if a person is making public social media posts, it’s the same as shouting it on a street corner.

“You’re responsible for what you say, what you publish and what you broadcast. [If] it’s in the public arena, it can be used against you,” said Harber.

RELATED ARTICLES:

Wits Vuvuzela, Wits SRC and EFF say student suspensions are unfair, August 22