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Wits management promises firm action against ‘disruptors’ after students protest in city streets

Wits management promises firm action against ‘disruptors’ after students protest in city streets
Students trying to get into the Great Hall at Wits University clash with security guards on 2 March 2023. (Photo: Supplied)

As protests against financial exclusion and the NSFAS accommodation caps continue at Wits, the university is encouraging staff and students to submit footage of those disrupting campus activity, as management vows to act ‘firmly’ against disruptors. 

On Wednesday, 1 March, the students’ representative council (SRC) at the University of Witwatersrand (Wits) announced a campus shutdown to protest against financial exclusion and ongoing housing issues. A mass meeting was held on Wednesday night where students deemed the situation a “state of emergency” and the suspension of academic activity the following day was planned.  

Protests continued on Thursday, where — according to the student newspaper Wits Vuvuzela — students did not restrict their protest action to campus but took to the streets of Braamfontein. Many shops in the Braamfontein precinct had to close down because of the protests, eNCA reportedWits communication officer Buhle Zuma shared a statement released on Tuesday by the university with Daily Maverick, which noted that after morning classes were disrupted on campus, students moved to Empire Road where protests “disrupted traffic” in the surrounding areas.  

Protesting students make their way through Wits University campus, 02 March 2023 (Photo: Supplied)

Protesting Wits University students sing struggle songs outside the Great Hall, 02 March 2023 (Photo: Supplied)

The university said those causing disruptions would face consequences. 

“The actions of the disruptors transgress the university’s rules pertaining to peaceful protest, and the rights of those who wish to learn and work. We cannot be held to ransom by a small group of disruptors, and we now have no choice but to act firmly against those who contravene the university’s rules. The university remains open and the academic programme continues as scheduled.” 

The university encouraged staff members and students to report any incidents of disruption to Campus Security Services and went on to thank those who had already done so. 

“Thank you to staff members and students who have submitted video footage, images and statements to Campus Protection Services. This evidence has been handed to the Legal Office with a view to suspending the disruptors in line with the university’s policies and procedures and taking appropriate legal action to ensure that the rights of others are not infringed.” 

When protests began on Wednesday, Wits deployed Campus Security Services to monitor the situation. They remained on campus on Thursday as protests continued. SRC secretary-general Tshiamo Chuma told Daily Maverick the security personnel were “harassing” students — mainly women.  

Zuma said the university has “a firm position against all forms of gender-based violence and harm” and any harassment should be reported immediately to the Gender Equity Office, which will investigate. 

Chuma said while there was a police presence when students were in Braamfontein, the SRC had negotiated with the police to ensure students could be peacefully and safely escorted through the city while they protested. She said the Wits student body has been very supportive of their protest action, with various societies and committees voicing their support. 

Protesting students close shops in Braamfontein on 2 March 2023, near the University of Witwatersrand, Johannesburg. (Photo: Supplied)

A protesting student empties a dustbin’s contents in Braamfontein, 2 March 2023, near the University of Witwatersrand, Johannesburg. (Photo: Supplied)

The campus shutdown was initiated by the SRC after they reported many students were sleeping in libraries because they could not afford accommodation. This was after the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) implemented a R45,000 cap on its accommodation allowance. One of the SRC’s demands is that this accommodation allowance cap is “scrapped with immediate effect”. 

Wits is not the only university student body outraged by NSFAS accommodation allowance caps. The University of Cape Town SRC announced a campus shutdown on Monday, 13 February, after many students at the university were left without housing options because of the NSFAS cap.  

The Wits SRC raised financial exclusion as another significant challenge for Wits students. Among the SRC’s demands are that “all students owing R150,000 or less should be allowed to register for the 2023 academic year”.

The university stated: “We remain committed to engagement with the SRC on these systemic issues in the higher education sector.” DM

 

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