Students clash at Wits protest - PICS
ILANIT CHERNICK, MASEGO PANYANE and GETRUDE MAKHAFOLA
Johannesburg - Lectures were disrupted on the first day of the second quarter at Wits University on Monday when students embarked on another #FeesMustFall strike.They were joined in their protest action by other students from several universities.
The students are calling for higher wages for workers, fees to fall and for charges to be dropped against students facing disciplinary action at all universities.
Chaotic scenes reigned at Wits’ main campus in Braamfontein, with students brandishing sticks and fire extinguishers as they marched through the grounds. They also allegedly attempted to set a lecture hall on fire.
One worker said she was in solidarity with the students. “I understand their pleas but I’m also here for myself so that our contracts will be in-sourced as promised from June 1.”
A student who identified himself as Andile said they would continue to protest until their demands were met.
By the early afternoon, the university had shut down, with most departments and offices closing their doors.
Several scuffles broke out between protesting students and the feminist and lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) members of the #FeesMustFall movement, who claim to be sidelined.
These students said male members of the movement use them as “window dressing” and allow “known criminals” to lead protests on their campus without their knowledge.
“We’re angry because women are not included in the #FeesMustFall movement. It’s as if women in this movement don’t count,” said one female student, who asked to remain anonymous.
In Senate House, tables and chairs in the cafeteria area were overturned, with powder from fire extinguishers covering the floor. Pot plants in the concourse area were broken and overturned, littering the floor with soil. Electricity to some of the buildings and libraries around the campus was allegedly cut.
EFF Wits Student Command leader Vuyani Pambo and Chumani Maxwele, known for his involvement in the “RhodesMustFall” movement, led the protest.
Pambo said their demands were simple. “We have a message: no exclusion of any form is welcome in our universities. We are asking for free education, no exclusions and no suspensions,” he said.
“We are ready to be arrested. When we are called thugs, let us be known as the thugs who stole education.”
With regard to student members who felt sidelined, Pambo called on students to find common ground. “Let us not be divided. Our movement has been peaceful, let us find each other and have a conversation. The struggle can be lost through the propaganda of the media, and we must not let that happen,” he said.
The Wits student representative council (SRC) has since distanced itself from the protest and accused the organisers of holding a secret meeting over the weekend, when they hacthed their plan to protest.
The SRC said the perceived exclusion of other students “could not be seen as non-partisan nor was it in the interest of students.”
SRC secretary-general Fasiha Hassan said they were in full support of the “decolonisation movement”. “We will continue to fight, but we don’t condone violence,” she said.
Hassan added that the SRC didn’t support the sidelining of other members of the broader #FeesMustFall movement.
Wits has denied removing names of students from its register, because their fees were in arrears.
Those who owed fees, which were due by March 31, were required to sign an acknowledgement of debt document and had to enter into a payment plan. If they did so, the university said it would not deregister them or bar them from the campus.
Police on Monday were requested to intervene and arrest the protesters for allegedly contravening a court order obtained earlier this year barring protests on campus.
“These are criminal acts and the university will deal with this matter decisively using all means at its disposal,” the university said in a statement, also asking the police to arrest individuals, in direct contravention of a court order obtained earlier this year.
Wits said additional security had been brought onto campus and all entrances and exit points had been secured while academic activities continued. The university added that non-Wits protesters would be barred from the campus and suspension orders would be issued to Wits students who took part in the protest.