Wits prof denies being held hostage

161015 Wits university prinicipal and Vice-chancellor Adam Habib tries to speak to students leaders during the students protest against a 10.5% fee increased. Picture:Paballo Thekiso

161015 Wits university prinicipal and Vice-chancellor Adam Habib tries to speak to students leaders during the students protest against a 10.5% fee increased. Picture:Paballo Thekiso

Published Oct 18, 2015


Johannesburg - Wits University principal and vice-chancellor Professor Adam Habib says media reports that he was held hostage are nonsense and “completely wrong”.

Habib left a high stakes education gathering in Durban to attend to the demands of his students on campus and was never held hostage on Friday, contrary to media reports, he says.

“I sat down because I was tired and wanted to eat,” he says.

The singing that went on around him – as he sat munching on nuts and each time he went to the loo – he ascribes to being “part and parcel of social protest”.

He says he was treated with respect, had his phone with him and could have walked out at any time he wished: “I took a calculated guess and decided to stay.”

But he blames some among the student leadership who gave the impression that he was kept at the hall against his better judgement.

Shirona Patel concurred with Habib that he had enough security detail around him not to have felt threatened.

Outgoing SRC president Sharee Kalla says at no point was Habib threatened and believes the student population should be commended for the manner in which they carried themselves on the day.

Before the meeting with Habib, there had been instances where protesting students were bumped by cars and some were pointed at with a firearm by disgruntled white students, she says.

But she insists none of the Exco members who attended the late evening meeting with the students was held against their wishes.

Both Habib and Dr Randall Carolissen, chairman of the Wits council, flew back from the higher education conference on transformation convened by Higher Education and Training Minister Blade Nzimande to address the concerns of the students regarding the proposed fee increases next year.

The protesting students took umbrage at Habib’s late arrival from Durban and insisted he stay with them at the Great Hall until Carolissen came to address their concerns over fees.

Wits suspended the fee increase after the overnight protests at its Braamfontein campus. The students began their protests on Wednesday and by Friday the institution had taken the decision to suspend classes. A statement from the university read: “The university will officially be closed on Monday, October 19, to allow council to report to a University Assembly.

“This includes the suspension of all university activities, including lectures, exams, assessments and practicals, etc, and will affect all students and staff on all campuses, including the Medical School and affiliated hospitals.”

The situation climaxed on Friday when the students summoned Habib to the Great Hall, where he was made to sit on the floor with the deputy vice-chancellor Andrew Crouch alongside student leaders – Mcebo Dlamini among them.

Nzimande had earlier in the week condemned the violence that often accompanied student protests in his opening address at the Durban conference.

Nzimande was not immediately available to speak but ministerial spokesman Khaye Nkwanyana said: “We condemn this practice. It is uncalled for. Students can strike but not resort to such levels.

“It’s a bad precedent. We encourage protest but it must have some responsibility in it.”

Among the decisions of the summit to be published would be the resolution of student demands, Nkwanyana said.

But the Wits statement agreed to follows “an intense and protracted engagement between protesting students and members of the executive committee of council”.

It promised that “there will be no disciplinary action taken against students or workers who participated in the protest, and no worker will face dismissal as a result of their participation in the protest”.

The Sunday Independent

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