Students at Wits University woke up on Wednesday expecting to return to campus but were met instead with news that a bookshop had been set on fire overnight and that gates at campus entrances were blocked. The Vice Chancellor Adam Habib however has engaged protesting students, ensuring them of his personal commitment to ending outsourcing. THE DAILY VOX TEAM reports.
The news of an arson attack on the Braamfontein campus shocked many on Wednesday morning. The popular bookseller, IH Pentz, which is situated in the east campus student hub known as the Matrix, was set alight some time after 1am.
Ntokozo Moloi, a third year law student, was on the scene shortly after the fire broke out. “It looked like someone threw a [burning] bottle through the window. Books that were burnt were on the floor, there was smoke all over,” she said.
Moloi was part of a group of about 50 students who were meeting last night in Senate House (known as Solomon House among protestors) to draft a memorandum on behalf of those who disagree with the SRC’s decision yesterday to return to campus, and who wish to continue the protest.
Moloi denied rumours that the fire had been set by those who want the protest to continue.
“We don’t want to burn the university. We are fighting for lots of issues, including new books being brought into the library. It’s not in our interest to go and burn stuff. All we want is to be heard and we’ve adopted a memorandum that we want the vice chancellor to sign,” she said.
It’s unclear who set the fires or why. On campus today, roads had also been blocked with debris, access gates had been damaged, and small groups of protesting students briefly disrupted lectures.
Students, who had expected for campus to return to normal on Wednesday, reacted to news of the fire and blockades with alarm. One student, who told The Daily Vox she supports the continuation of the protest, said she was shocked by what had happened overnight. “I am here for the protesting against outsourcing but I don’t like the fires,” she said.
Meanwhile, workers called for a public meeting to take place at 12:30 on Wednesday at Solomon House, to discuss the issue of outsourcing, the abolition of which has been a key demand from students since the beginning of the protests.
Workers have suffered during the past three weeks of protests. One Wits worker told The Daily Vox that her employer, who is a shop owner in a one of the shops on the campus, had said she will not be paid for the time when the university was closed.
“He said that we will only get 50% of our salaries and we may have to work less hours in the future. This is unfair because the protest was out of our hands, why are we being punished for it?” she said.
Wits university management released a statement this morning saying that police are on standby. The university later invoked section 1 of the Trespass Act of 1959, revoking permission for anyone who blocks entrances, exits, lifts and stairwells or “prevents the proper functioning of the university” from being present on university property, and calling on those engaging in such actions to “cease and desist”.
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