Around 50 to 60 academic and administrative staff protested outside Wits University’s Great Hall to raise concerns about the heavy police presence on campus. The staff members were joined in solidarity by a group of about 100 students who echoed the sentiments of their lecturers. Some wore red tape over their mouths to symbolise that they have been silenced by Wits management. By Ihsaan Haffejee and GROUNDUP Staff.
First published by GroundUp
A large police presence has been at Wits since protests began several weeks ago. On Tuesday security checked car boots and police continued to block the tunnel which runs under the highway that connects East to West campus. A group of private security guards checked the bags of students entering the Great Hall.
Some protesters wore red tape across their mouths to symobolise being silenced. Photo: Ihsaan Haffejee
The staff members are calling on Wits management to remove the police and private security from campus. Last week, as tensions escalated, the police brought in the Tactical Response Team (TRT) Unit in addition to the usual Public Order Policing (POP) unit. Students and lecturers at the protest accuse the police of adding to the tension on campus and for the escalation of violence.
Sekibakiba Lekgoathi, an Associate Professor of African History, noted that part of the demands of the protesting academics was for the vice chancellor to sincerely listen to and engage with concerned staff and students. He also noted that calling on staff and students to continue with work under these conditions would endanger lives and impact negatively on the psychological well-being of staff and students.
“It has become increasingly impossible to conduct lectures due to noise levels on campus caused by the hovering helicopters, stun grenades, gunshots and the commotion between students and the police. At best, these events have instilled emotional and psychological trauma in students, affecting their ability to concentrate and learn. This is especially the case for black students who continue to be targeted with police brutality,” said Lekgoathi.
Students waved accusing fingers at the private security gathered at the entrance to the Great Hall but dispersed after the protest concluded without incident.
The Wits executive published a statement saying that attendance was high in the majority of lectures on Monday.
“The academic programme continues today as per the academic calendar,” it said.
The statement noted that there were “skirmishes last night between a group of protesting students and police near the Men’s Residence last night. Some students blocked the road from the Matrix to the Old Mutual Sports Hall with rocks. The police removed the rocks. Windows at the Sports Hall were also broken. The protesting group then threw a petrol bomb at a police van and pelted the police with rocks. Many fires were also started in dustbins. A van belonging to a service provider was overturned. A case was opened last night and the police are investigating the matter. No injuries were reported.” DM
Main photo: Wits academic and administrative staff protest outside the Great Hall earlier on Tuesday. Photo: Ihsaan Haffejee