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Students vow to keep Wits shut down

On Tuesday morning, protestors blocked the entrance to the University of Witwatersrand’s medical school, prohibiting students from entering the campus. The move comes as students are expected to escalate their protest against proposed fee increases.   PONTSHO PILANE reports. 

On Monday the council of the University of the Witwatersrand told students that it will communicate its decision on fees for the next academic year in November, angering protestors on campus. Student leaders have responded with defiance, insisting that the students will shut down the university.

“The university will remain closed until our grievances are heard,” former SRC president Mcebo Dlamini, who is one of the leaders of the protest, said.

He also expressed dissatisfaction with reports that the university’s medical school was still operational during the protest.

“We will make sure that medical school is shut down. Academic activities have been suspended across all campuses but medical school has been operational – we will bring it to a standstill as well,” he said.

Another blockade of major roads surrounding the main university campus in Braamfontein and Parktown is expected today.

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On Monday, protestors took to the streets of Braamfontein after receiving instructions to vacate the Senate House concourse. Their protest began on Jorissen Street and ended on Emprire Street where they staged a sit-in at the intersection.

Things escalated when a motorist forced his way through students  occupying Empire Road. The motorist drove through the students, apparently injuring at least four.

“I luckily stood up in time and cleared the way. I just got hit by the side mirror and the tyre ran over my foot,” Dikeledi Magwadi told Daily Vox.

 Students then chased down the motorist and broke his windscreen and assaulted him. Police later arrived on the scene and removed the motorist from the vehicle. Students then students turned over his car.

Students then cleared Empire Road and returned to Senate House.

Vice Chancellor Adam Habib meanwhile has expressed concerns in the media about the students academic performance as students are expected to begin sitting their final examinations within the next two weeks.

Protest leaders however have indicated they will move for a postponement of exams.

“We want the university to postpone assignments, tests and exams. While we continue the shutdown, we will bring our books and study,” SRC president Shaeera Kalla said at a mass meeting on Monday night.

Students endorsed the decision to continue with the protest.

Earlier on Monday, a noon address scheduled by the university council was cancelled after students forced their way into the Senate House Concourse.

The council had earlier changed the venue for the address from the Senate House Concourse to a piazza outside the Great Hall.

Students said they were not consulted about the change in venue for the address, and would continue to occupy the concourse until council representatives addressed them in person.

Meanwhile, the council released a statement saying it had indeed informed the SRC of the change in venue.

“In anticipation of large numbers of students, and for health and safety reasons, Council informed the Wits Student Representative Council that this would happen on the piazza outside the Great Hall,” the statement said.

The statement from council also said the university would consider “austerity” measures and that vice-chancellor Adam Habib also offered to funnel any performance-based bonus owed to him to deserving students.

The minister of higher education Dr Blade Nzimande has urged universities to minimise the impact of fee increases.

Speaking at a press conference held in Pretoria on Monday, Nzimande said: “Considering the current economic challenges and fiscal constraints facing the country, the department urges all university councils and management to exercise greater caution and sensitivity in the process of determining fee increases in their institutions.”

 

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