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Wits management investigating scuffle between protesters, private security

Wits students occupy Solomon Mahlangu House on Tuesday morning. (Photo: Zoë Postman)

University of the Witwatersrand management says it is investigating a scuffle between protesting students and private security guards which left one protester injured on Tuesday.

Members of the Wits student representative council (SRC) embarked on a hunger strike at 06:00 at Solomon Mahlangu House – the administration block of the campus.

The strike followed a protest on Monday, when students disrupted classes and demonstrated on campus, calling on the university to listen to their demands, which relate to accommodation, registration fees and financial exclusion.

However, tensions spiked when the students and the guards had a misunderstanding. Students threw pillows and blankets at the guards, who retaliated.

One of the protesters was injured.

“We condemn any kind of violence, whether it’s from the private security, our own security, students, etc. We are looking into that and investigating it and we will take that up with the relevant company,” Wits spokesperson Shirona Patel said.

Patel said private security guards were deployed after protesters disrupted several classes and intimidated staff and students on Monday.

“We brought them (the security guards) largely to protect the academic programme and property. There were some threats to staff members and other students who didn’t want join them and so that’s why we brought in the private security,” she said.

While the institution was happy to allow students to practice their right to protest, it was obliged to protect the rights of those who wanted to continue with teaching and learning, Patel said.

She added that about six classes were disrupted on Monday but that all academic programmes were operating as normal on Tuesday, despite demonstrations by a group of what was believed to be about 150 students.

“Today we have had no disruptions, we have had the entire programme running as normal but we have put securities outside each of the buildings,” said Patel.

The university said it would continue to engage with the students and hoped an agreement would be reached soon.

By 15:30 a handful of students who had joined the hunger strike were packing up their pillows and blankets while others were demonstrating and blockading Yale Road, where shuttle buses were parked. DM

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