“I was never ready for what happened at Wits yesterday”


Wits students are well versed in being stopped in their daily lives, but yesterday they took it upon themselves to stop the functioning of the university entirely. Wits academic, DANAI MUPOTSA, describes how students’ experiences of living-in-being stopped are coming to the fore through the fee protests.

In my classes, I often make mention of the idea of being stopped. I work politically and intellectually with the idea because it is useful to describe the workings of institutionalised hetero-patriarchal whiteness.

Student leaders have often referenced it in public statements when they talk about the multiple journeys, from their homes to this place, where in travel they are made as people always out of place. You are always already out of place and you learn this from the lived experience of being stopped.

As is the case on most days, I drove to work with the plan of parking by 7:30am. I prefer an easy ride in, good parking, and a long productive day. I prepared for such a day, set goals and I told myself, quite literally, that I wanted to be great.

Denied access to the Yale Road entrance of Wits University, I lamented, “Why won’t campus control just let me be great?” I had been stopped, and like many hundreds of others, fell into a gentle rage because we do not like to be stopped.

I was never ready for what happened at Wits yesterday, and it is not for a lack of want or longing for this event. In fact, as I lay myself to sleep on the previous night I looked forward to the fees protest being spoken gently on social networks. But I was never ready for this.

No one was ready for what was the biggest protest many of us have ever seen at Wits. What the workers and students succeeded in doing was to stop the institution from its daily functioning. What the students were able to demonstrate was the violence of living-in-being-stopped.

The protests are mobilised in an environment of dramatic stoppages. There have been various protests at this university. #Oct6 last week – where students and workers mobilised on the violence of the outsourcing of labour at universities and the general trend toward privatising labour in the public services more generally in this country.

The protests are mobilised around the senate agreement to increase student fees. More specifically, the upfront payment that students are required to pay in order to register has been increased by 6% to R9900, the overall fees were increased by 10.5%, the residence fees were increased by 9,4% and international student fees have been increased by 10.7%.

Incidentally, the majority of international students are black.

The reality is that for most students this agreement affirms their exclusion.

These very students are well versed in being stopped. Their very pedestrian relations with institutionalised power and the academy are premised on the relation of inclusion as practice in being stopped.

For the majority of students, access to student records is another stop sign. It is at the end of the year when one possibly reckons with the outstanding amounts and plays fantasy with the idea that they can pull together an upfront payment for another year of study.

And yet it is the assumption of the very institution that the normal student can and should access their inclusion through such mechanisms because payment is the means for access.

The statement released by the management of this university on |Wednesday afternoon described the students’ protesting as a minority that interrupted the daily functioning of the majority. This is a yet another interruption.

The charge also made mention of protest actions on Tuesday night, although not on those terms. While the vice chancellor actually met with students protesting at Parktown Village, in this statement there is no mention of the concerns of the students. Instead there is a caution or concern about safety and a claim that property was vandalised.

Parktown Village is the most affordable residence hall at Wits university. Many students fail to attend classes because there is simply not enough accommodation offered by the institution. The state of residence halls at the university is an issue of broad concern for students who have continuously protested the conditions that they are forced to live in. But these places are also variously their homes. Parktown Village will be demolished in order for the university to build a parking lot for the Wits Business School.

The statement missed the point because it failed to recognise the number of people present and the majority view that they represent.

The statement missed the point because it appears that in the university’s definition, “the majority” refers to the particular idea of a student bundled together in the optimistic wishes of a demonstrably conservative project.

The protests emphasise an intersectional approach. By this, I refer to the ways that workers, women, queers and students with disabilities are visible, present, articulate and demanding.

The reactions of staff and students who are unoccasioned to being stopped have been illustrative. For a day, just a day, things were not business as usual. There was the prospect of walking, or, dare I say, using public transport. There was the prospect of being made to feel unsafe, quite ordinary to many others. There was the prospect of being out of place in a place where you may have variously felt in place.

One of my classes ended uncomfortably on Tuesday. A student had asked me – although he directed the question to the class –  what the purpose of our lessons were when living was so very hard.

I came to work on Wednesday morning with the intention to respond to this student in an email about the pain of living when you are occasioned to being stopped. I planned to speak of the various modes of living, no less breathing. I still intend to send this email.

But I was stopped.

And what a glorious way to be stopped.

For those occasioned in being stopped, there is valid and valuable learning in waiting. Living-in-being stopped offers modes of reading and seeing.

The students demonstrated in sites of waiting, political awareness made in living-in-being stopped. This is one way of breathing.


Danai Mupotsa is a lecturer in African Literature at Wits.


  1. When are we going to simply say that a nonsense phrase like the “workings of institutionalised hetero-patriarchal whiteness” is a new way of saying “I hate white people”. And this is just as awful: “sites of waiting, political awareness made in living-in-being stopped.” It means nothing. Literally, nothing. It is a new kind of jargon that blames things like high prices for things due to a declining rand and the increased cost of running a university the fault of white people rather than the lack of subsidy granted to universities by a wasteful black government. The students had a riot.They did thousands of rands to the campus. They created dangerous atmosphere and denied people the right to an education. They did not do anything about “living-in-being” save for making “living-in-being” more difficult for the majority of the people at Wits and the rest who are trying to do their jobs.

    • John, that isn’t a new way of saying “I hate white people.” It is very easy and quite liberating in fact to say I hate white people- but that’s not what Danai means so keep your self-imposed indignation in check. You speak like you don’t know that your parents benefited from the large sums of ill-gotten apartheid payouts/pensions and that is the reality of white people and explains their white priviledge. Black students have to start from the beginning often relying on their underpaid parents to obtain loan after loan after loan to fund their studies.
      The only people in danger were the students who risked getting run over by people not used to being stopped- such as white people! If the University is not inconvenienced by this protest, how else are people like you going to understand the daily inconveniences suffered by poor students (mainly black) just to get an education.

      Wits received a 100million donation- if its priority was students- it would use that donation to pay for these ‘increased costs of running a university”.

      Aluta.Matla. #witsmustfall

    • John, clearly institutionalised white heteropatriarchy is not a lived reality for you but indeed a lived reality for many black students who attend universities. Wits University receives millions in funding and grants both from Government and the private sector but this by no means justifies running a public institution like a corporate death star by unreasonably rising tuition fees to a point where students can’t possibly afford their studies anymore. If you are a Wits student or at least know what especially disadvantaged black students go through on a daily basis to get an education then we can talk otherwise you are just making white noise.

  2. Wits has to raise its fees because the black government has cut subsidy to the university. I believe ALL needy students should be able to attend the university FOR FEEE and would be able to do so if this government decided to spend less on mansions and luxurious and more on the people who actually elected it. Wits gets R100 million and the president drops R250 million on a house, and R2 billion on jets…and these kids have to beg for cash for their studies? Really? And those who complain about it, like me, are called purveyors of “white noise”? Seriously? It is unfair that these kids are going to lose a chance at their education but do NOT blame white people for the inefficiency and corruption of a black government that CUTS their funding while spending it on wasteful luxury, exorbitant salaries and unadulterated corruption. I am not going to “check my privilege” (another meaningless phrase) until the government checks its corruption!

  3. I almost agreed with John. I too take phrases like “institutionalised…whiteness” as code for “I am making race my point so stop listening unless you are my race”. Until John replied. Then we lost each other. It’s not a “black” government – and opposition of policy is not “white”. Given who and where we are, I assume that both protagonists see how their arguments are corroded by this insistence on bringing color into very sentence as if it were a punctuation mark. Get better arguments. Simplify your language. Get real.

  4. And there is the problem. Writers can bang on about “whiteness” and “disrupting whiteness” but we whites cannot dare to suggest that these problems have nothing to do with whiteness or white people and everything to do with poor decisions made by black politicians. White people are used as a scapegoat to deflect the failures of the ANC and this is one of them…the failure to provide education to its voters. And as Wits SRC is clearly aligned with the ANC…its leaders have been instructed to blame whites at Wits for this mess ratger than government for cutting subsidy. But of course as white men…card carrying members of the patriarchy…we need to sit down and shut up. A luta etc….

  5. You call it ‘stopping people to make them think’ and ‘valid educational experience’. I call it what it is; a violation of the basic human right to movement, as enshrined in our constitution, and hostage-taking. These academics will never run out of ways to justify reckless and dangerous acts undertaken in the name of some kind of ‘social justice’. How does property destruction, assault, verbal abuse and hate speech become celebrated as an expression of democratic rights. We are all living in Oceania.


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