Wits ceasefire: Classes suspended as sides enter negotiations

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Classes at Wits University have been suspended until Monday while a general assembly will be held on Friday, said student leader and former SRC president Mcebo Dlamini after a meeting with university management on Tuesday night.

He said the meeting agreed to:

  • Extend the academic year by two weeks;
  • Keep police outside campus; and
  • Students would not damage property or hold violent protests.

The meeting was held to negotiate a settlement between protesting students and management.

Economic Freedom Fighters Advocate Dali Mpofu was among those trying to negotiate the agreement between protesting students and management to ensure the 2016 academic year can be completed at the university .

Mpofu spent most of yesterday on campus as a large group of students engaged in running battles with police that left several people injured, including students, a lecturer, journalists and police.

The EFF national chairman said he had intervened in the chaos not in his official capacity but as a concerned parent.

“The key issue is that we must all try to save the academic year and on that we are all 100% agreed,” he told Radio 702.

“If we can get consensus before the end of today on what should happen tomorrow . and the next day and so on, then we will be able to announce, together with the university, what should happen in the next 24 to 48 hours,” he said.

 

“Hopefully there will be compromises that we will be asking for on both sides which can lead up to arresting the situation and ensuring that there is a moratorium on violence on both sides.”

Speaking to students yesterday afternoon, he called on Wits University vice-chancellor Adam Habib to pers

onally address students within the next two to three days.

“We have been saying to him he must come and talk to you as students [and] not through the media, but directly. Your parents have entrusted you to him; he is now the parent,” said Mpofu

Last night Wits’ senior executive team confirmed talks were under way.

Lectures resumed on campus yesterday but had to be called off after protesting students and police clashed outside the Great Hall.

“The academic programme started but was disrupted around mid-morning by a group of 500 students. While the police managed to disband groups of protesters early this morning, they could not do so when the group became too large.”

Police threw stun grenades and teargas and fired rubber bullets in the hopes of dispersing the crowd but students retaliated, throwing stones, rocks and bottles.

 

Acting National Police Commissioner Khomotso Phahlane said 17 students were arrested. Among those was #FeesMustFall leader Busisiwe Seabe.

Phahlane said that, while police were required to “exercise maximum restraint, [they must also] exercise their duties as set out by the constitution”.

“De-escalation of violence is the ultimate goal,” he said, adding that the “senseless destruction and violence – throwing stones and firing rubber bullets – cannot, in any way be considered the solution.”

Wits spokesman Shirona Patel said at least 10 students suffered minor injuries while a Wits lecturer had to be taken to hospital after being injured.

Dlamini, who managed to escape from police when they tried to arrest him, said police were instructed by the university to target student leaders “because they think it would demoralise us.

“We are showing that we are not scared of police brutality.

“The police want to intimidate us in our own home. We are saying we’ll take the war to you,” he said.

Meanwhile, the Department of Higher Education has told the fees commission in Pretoria that the provision of free higher education for everyone has never been the government or the ANC’s position.

“As far as we understand government’s position and the position of the ANC has never been that there will be free higher education for everyone,” the department’s Thandi Lewin, who is tasked with developing the National Plan for Post-School Education and Training, said.

Lewin said: “The position is free higher education for the poor to be progressively made available. The position of the department has been to progressively provide funding to make higher education and other forms of education as accessible as possible to the poor and increasingly to working class and even middle-class students to provide support.”

The question of whether it was feasible to provide free higher education was a political question as much as it was a technical one.

She said it could not be answered by technical contemplation alone and must be considered within the broader context of the funding of education generally and of post-school education and training.

The department submitted that any university funding considerations could not be isolated from the whole education system.