One of the seven students who have been suspended from Wits University was found bringing petrol on campus.
This is according to the university leadership, which has refused to accede to the demand by the student representative council (SRC) to revoke the suspension of the students, including its president, Aphiwe Mnyamane.
Wits University spokesperson Shirona Patel said the students were facing serious charges and the institution’s disciplinary processes had to take their course, rejecting claims by SRC members that their suspensions were used to intimidate the students.
“Seven students have been suspended thus far, including one who was found bringing petrol onto campus,” said Patel.
“They were suspended for breaking the university’s rules; for intimidating members of the Wits community; for disrupting lectures and inciting others to do so; for damaging and destroying property and for blocking the university’s entry and exit points,” she said.
Member of the SRC executive Karabo Matloga said they were concerned about the manner in which the university was handling the negotiations.
“Before the president [Mnyamane] was suspended, other suspended students were allowed to sit in meetings,” he said.
“Even the suggestion that the meetings be held off campus so that the suspended students can attend has not been accepted,” he said.
He said in some of the charges, the university had gone beyond its jurisdiction. “In one case they are quoting Jan Smuts Avenue. Where does Wits University’s property end in terms of jurisdiction?”
Matloga, the SRC’s compliance officer, said he was also saddened by the false information the university had shared with the public that some of the protesters who wanted to register had failed multiple times.
In statements, including one that was issued on Friday, the university said some of the protesters had lost their funding, and were now demanding to return.
“In one case, a student has been in the system for eight years, and is only in his second year of study,” reads the statement.
Matloga said: “We are protesting against financial exclusion. None of our demands relate to academic exclusion, that is a separate issue. And with Wits’ academic exclusion policy, there’s no student who can fail eight times and still be in second year and still be at the university. We are not even aware of such a case,” he said.
As Wits University students’ protest heads for its second week, the institution has since removed all private security off campus, with Patel saying it was only brought in after the university was exposed to damage to property, the overturning of tables, and the blocking of access, among other things.
“The University had no choice but to bring in private security to protect students and staff, to ensure that Wits’ buildings and property were not damaged, that members of the community were not intimidated, and that lectures were not disrupted. Moreover, the SAPS only entered the university’s precincts on Friday March 3, given the volatile situation on campus,” she said.
The protests have since been suspended until further notice as the SRC awaits guidance from its lawyers on the process of mediation, Matloga said. Patel said the university was waiting for students to advise on the next steps.
She said Wits management representatives and the SRC had worked extremely closely for months.
“The protests last week thus came as a surprise to the university as we thought that we were all on the same page. We responded to the first set of demands on February 2, and continued fundraising. “On Saturday, following a marathon seven-hour meeting, at which we discussed the SRC’s 13 demands, we made a number of huge concessions which will cost the university millions of rands. These were rejected by the SRC,” she said.
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