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Public statement
Wits SRC

The paralysis in South African universities following protests by students demanding free, decolonized education persists. In an impressive show of solid defiance reminiscent of the nationalist struggle against apartheid, students at Wits University have issued a raft of demands to administration, even as there are no signs that a solution to the crisis is within sight.

A second year comes to a close and we find ourselves in an extremely difficult position as a student movement. We travel the same road that Steve Bantu Biko, Robert Mangaliso Sobukwe, Lilian Ngoyi, Chris Hani, Fatima Meer, Solomon Mahlangu and all of the other many great giants of our past have travelled. The road that we are now on is an old road; it has its place in our history books. But we know too well that our history is a nightmare from which we are still trying to awake.

A Black child could never be born free on this road. This is why the term “born free” does not make sense to us as young people. A Black child could never see South Africa as a “rainbow nation” because at every turn in his or her life there are harsh reminders of the reality of Black life.

Ours is to restore the dignity of the Black child.

From marching on the picket lines to coming up with a model for funding free education; from speaking to high school learners to join the struggle to conscientising prisoners who we meet when we are thrown into jail; from asking our mothers and fathers to dust off their struggle boots and join us to going to court and using the law to challenge the unjust status quo.

The whole world has stopped to watch the Fees Must Fall movement on our path. From New York to Namibia to the UK, many have pledged support and solidarity.

Our call is a universal call. Our fight is a simple fight. Our struggle is a just struggle. And at this moment we find ourselves in we are painfully reminded that we have a long way to go, and ours will not be an easy road.

The last few months have seen Wits and universities around the country being turned into a militarized war zone implementing apartheid-like tactics to violently repress protest action and to kill the Fees Must Fall Movement. Our University has mirrored the state of emergency at Wits in the 1980s during the struggle for liberation.

Police have fired tear gas and rubber bullets into residences. Private security and police demand students to present their student cards as a dompass on a daily basis; Black students in particular are searched, harassed and humiliated. Examination venues are filled with armed police and private security and for the first time at Wits, perhaps since the end of apartheid, seating arrangements for exams are listed according to the race of students in the exam venues. Students are triggered as they enter the venue and are forced to write the examination under these militarized and abusive conditions.

The university has never been so polarized between Black and white, rich and poor, for or against free education, as it is now. But throughout this time we have been met with hourly emails from the Senior Executive Team (SET) claiming that it has been business as usual. Up to this point the university has decisively and successfully placed themselves as a buffer between the government and the Fees Must Fall movement.

Instead of engaging with us, the university management handed Wits over to private security and the South African Police Service, knowing full well the consequences.

While our students were being brutalized; while our students were met with stun grenades; while our students choked on tear gas, dodged rubber bullets and more than 830 students nationwide languished in prison, the university cannot rationally claim the moral high ground after everything we have been made to endure for fighting a just cause and asking the university to take a stand with us on the right side of history.

Professor Adam Habib and the University have been extremely disingenuous in the media – since this is the only means of communication we have had with them up to this point. When students took the university to court around the Wits referendum to return to the academic program, they reworded the referendum to an “opinion poll”; when the university was challenged in court around the issue of the apartheid-like curfew that was instituted which stopped students from utilising libraries and moving around campus, they reworded it as a “restriction time”.

Comrades Benjamin Lesedi Phehla (TUT) and Kelvin Baloyi (UJ) were killed because of the militarization of our universities. We have lost two young bring minds at the hands of police and private security. And yet there is no outrage from those whose voices are loud when property is destroyed.

Things at our universities are far from normal; despite this Vice Chancellors have left exams hanging over our heads like a guillotine.

The university has forced examinations to sit now, despite thousands of students crying out saying that they are not ready to write due to the trauma of police brutality and the private security on campus. This sitting of examinations is not to produce the best doctors, lawyers, accountants, engineers or sociologists. The emphasis is not to enhance students and to support them academically. This forced November sitting is about the University trying to save face in the public eye instead of putting in measures to ensure that the Black child is able to successfully write these exams.

We have warned the university that forcing examinations to sit now will result in the mass failure of thousands of our students, particularly Black underprivileged students. Unfortunately the university is of the belief that by forcing examinations to sit now, they are saving the academic year. However, the failure of thousands of poor Black students is in its very essence the true loss of the academic year.

Attempts to have constructive discussions with the university were usually quickly thwarted by the university management. The first attempt was made more than 2 months ago when Professor Adam Habib refused to accept a memorandum of internal demands from us.

The General Assembly was the second lost opportunity, as we know on this occasion the Vice Chancellor unilaterally cancelled the assembly. The assembly went ahead with students despite this.

The third attempt was in the form of a scheduled meeting with a delegation of students. It did not go ahead because the university was unwilling to meet on our terms as students to make the meeting as open and transparent as possible.

We urge the university to hear our call. It is not enough for intellectuals and academics to write about Fees Must Fall. It is not enough for the university to say that they support the call for free, quality and decolonised education, while their actions speak otherwise. We demand that the university backs up their support by action. The need to engage has been necessary and urgent. Wits Fees Must Fall leaders and the SRC were able to enter the first of a series of meetings with the Senior Executive Team. The first meeting dealt with exams as a matter of exigency. Once this issue is resolved the other demands will be tabled.

We are giving the university a chance to redeem itself. We want to put on the table the following issues:

1.     Examinations

We demand

-       a second ordinary sitting of examinations. This gives students a chance to write exams in January if they do not feel ready to do so now, OR to rewrite the exams they have already written if they do not feel they did well enough or were not comfortable with the conditions under which they were made to write.

-       an amendment of the criteria for academic exclusions because of the suffering which students have endured during the protests.

-       supplementary examinations across faculty and year of study.

-       scrapping of payment for supplementary examinations

-       removal of racialized seating plans for examinations.

2. Criminalizing student protestors

We demand

- that the University go to court and withdraw all cases in which it is a complainant. This includes the interdict and cases against students;

- amnesty for all suspensions and expulsions that have been issued in the FMF period, from last year till this year;

3. Workers

We demand

- that the insourcing process which started last year as a result of the FMF protests be sped up. Insourcing was meant to be implemented by May/June 2016 and the university has not stuck to this timeline.

- all suspended workers be re-instated and their suspensions lifted;

- retail workers who have been unduly fired need to be re-instated through their representation on the Insourcing Task Team (ITT);

- demands made to the ITT by retail workers need to be responded to;

- the ban against Sis Thandiswa Yaphi of Sizzlers, a retail workers leader who has been unfairly fired, needs to be lifted.

4. No financial exclusions this year

We demand

- that the university ensures that any student who applies and is accepted academically will not be turned away as a result of financial exclusion since the university has said they support free education.

- NSFAS students should be given a top-up for the amount that NSFAS will not cover, since NSFAS only covers up to R67 000 at most.

- students with outstanding fees should be allowed to graduate if they are in their final year or continue their studies if they are not in their final year.

5. International students

We demand

- that the university allows international students to register online or late in the event that they are unable to;

- the international students levy must be audited and put under review for African students;

6. Removal of private security and SAPS

We demand

- no exams continue with police presence after the trauma we have endured;

- freedom of movement, expression and dignity, which has been highly compromised by the presence of private security and police, who have entrenched violence in our day to day lives on campus.

7. Residence

We demand

- residence stay should be extended (including catering) to include submissions of assignments and there must be NO payments for residence stay during deferred examinations.

- arrangements should be made for students in January for the second sitting of examinations.

The Student Representative Council, All Residence Council and Fees Must Fall leaders will continue to keep students informed of the discussions and any outcomes from these. We are continuing the fight for the masses of our people. We are continuing the fight for a free, quality and decolonized education!

For comment:

Kefentse Mkhari - 073 878 5440 or [email protected], Wits SRC President 2016/2017

David Manabile – 076 229 1369 or [email protected] / [email protected], Wits SRC Secretary General 2016/2017

Fasiha Hassan – 084 598 2437 or [email protected]

Former Wits SRC Secretary General 2015/2016