Wits University has painted a worrying picture about the state of the Fees Must Fall protest which has forced universities across the country . This is expressed in a letter sent out to Wits University Alumni and presumably other stakeholders announcing that the university will remain closed until further notice and detailing the events of the week from its point of view. The letter signed by Acting Vice Chancellor Professor Tawana Kupe reads thus:
As a key member of the Wits community we would like to keep you updated on events that took place at Wits this past week.
A few hundred students embarked on an attempted shutdown of the University immediately following the 2017 fees announcement by the Minister of Education, Blade Nzimande, on Monday 19 September 2016.
While there has been widespread acknowledgement that the Minister’s announcement addressed the needs of both poor and “missing middle” students, some in the FeesMustFall movement continue to make a non-negotiable demand for free education and consider it acceptable to disrupt education at universities until this demand is met.
Notwithstanding the disruption of Monday afternoon, the University remained open for business on Tuesday with reinforced security measures. However the University still experienced significant disruption by protesting students as well as intimidation of students and staff by some protestors.
Despite a large security presence it was impossible to police every building and lecture theatre on our various campuses. A decision was therefore taken in the interests of safety and security of our students, staff and visitors to the campus, to close the University for the remainder of the week.
As many of you will have seen in the news, student protestors subsequently clashed with security and police both on campus and in the streets of Braamfontein and Parktown.
The violence, intimidation and disruption that has accompanied the protests, including some incidents of heavy-handed policing and the appalling actions of some private security officers who participated in stone throwing against protestors goes against everything that we hold dear as a University. All incidents of violence, will be thoroughly investigated and appropriate action taken. Violence from any quarter breaks down trust between peers, students, staff and others and creates an environment that is incompatible with a teaching and learning environment.
Wits is home to 36 300 students and over 5 000 staff members, the majority of whom want to learn and work. The rights of our staff and students have been violated and there has been significant damage to property despite the additional security that we deployed and the presence of the police on our campuses.
This University, with its proud progressive history, has witnessed scenes that are sad, worrying and deplorable over the past week. We have consistently maintained that students have a democratic right to protest, as long as they do not violate the University’s rules and the laws of the country.
We place human life and wellbeing above all else and cannot risk putting our students, staff and members of the public at risk. For this reason, the suspension of University activities has been extended until further notice. We do so with profound regret and sadness, but the University needs to ensure that conditions conducive to teaching and learning in a safe environment are in place before it can consider reopening.
We are extremely grateful for the many messages of concern and support we have received from alumni. Your continuous support has enabled Wits to become the great University that it is today. We are committed to preserving this proud legacy so that future generations can benefit from its world class education and global reputation.
A further update will be sent to the university community and alumni on Monday 26 September 2016.
Your continued support is deeply appreciated.
Please also visit www.wits.ac.za for additional updates.
Professor Tawana Kupe
24 September 2016