Three moments from the #WitsShutDown that gave us the feels

On Wednesday, Wits University students protested against the 10.5% fee increment that is proposed for 2016. What started off as a protest with less than a hundred people, quickly turned into hundreds of students that brought the university to a standstill. Amidst the commotion, there were three memorable moments.

1. PYA and EFF standing together

Mcebo and Vuyani Wits fees protest
The Progressive Youth Alliance (PYA) and EFF Wits are often on opposing teams when it comes to student leadership, but yesterday they put their party politics aside for a greater cause. EFF Wits Chairperson Vuyani Pambo was hand-in-hand with axed Wits SRC president Mcebo Dlamini, who is a die-hard ANC member and supporter. Project W leaders and members were also there. “This struggle is bigger than all our political agendas. This is about the students and the injustices happening at this university,” said Wits SRC President Shaeera Kalla.

2. Wits workers downed tools and stood in solidarity with students

It was just last week when Wits students held a solidarity march against the outsourcing of labour at the university. The #Oct6 march saw many students demand the university management to stop outsourcing and pay workers such as cleaners a living wage. The Wits workers returned the favor yesterday as they marched with the students. “The students are always here for us. We must be there for them. If they as the clients of the university are treated badly – what more for us?” said an Impact Cleaning Services worker.

3. Academic staff forming a human barrier for the students

As the shut down went into the evening, and many Wits staff and students could not leave the campus, it was alleged that the university had called the South African Police Services to “disperse” the students. There was very little police presence in the beginning, but in the fear that more police would come, some of the Wits academic staff members volunteered themselves as the first line of defence. When police vehicles came to the entrances occupied by students, the academics stood in a line in front of the students until the police left.

What are your thoughts on the fee protests at Wits? Comment below or tweet us @thedailyvox.

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Images by Pontsho Pilane

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3 Comments

  1. Charles Nyuykonge says

    The University has deliberately refused to see strikes as a constitutional right and the absence of a framework acceptable to both staff and students is the bane of consistent frustrations which get handled so poorly; and get students expelled, others jailed, and staff leaving.

    Wits has never till date been able to come-up with a Protest Action Policy. In 2008/2009, the Wits University Forum recommended that the Registry looks into one since strikes are regular, but I guess the University feared that whatever criteria is put to start a strike, both students and staff will always meet the criteria because management sits so far from the reality.

    Take for instance that such a policy said, if you got 1000 signatures, you can start a strike … Or that if you got 5000 signatures, a management, senate or council decision should be reversed as unpopular – Do you realise how many policies will be challenged by both staff and students successfully?

    Strikes at Wits and indeed all South African Universities will continue because Senior Management is incorrigible. It’s the same breed that gets recycled. I dare say a bunch of some 10, maximum 15 per university who, working with their business counterparts in Council, commercialize education and trivialize government subventions. The constant justification of fee hikes on projections for next year is no longer tenable. Self-sponsoring students, Parents, Governments and industries that have to sponsor the students get hit by inflation; benefit little or disproportionate salary/wage; seldom make profit under current economic climate but are asked to pay “only 10.5% increase”. Imagine every year you had a salary increase of 10% – how happy would you be? But imagine if you get a 5-7% increase as most of us, yet inflation is at 9%, and someone asks you to pay him an additional 10% for a regular service which you are compulsorily receiving so that we get saved from being a nation of embeciles.

    I dare someone to undertake a critical audit about what the increments over the last five years had to, and what they eventually covered or what was eventually delivered. You’d seldom realize it matches the promises. Staff are underpaid, departments understaffed, tutors exploited, and the university performance keeps declining. Yet, no one has punished management for performances which do not match their huge salaries and benefits.

    Management almost operates without rendering account. I’m sure the VC will talk about Council. But as a former member of Council, it’s a forum whose members rubber-stamps all management decisions and always ever just notes the students’ concern. One former Council Chairperson said, “the University is not run on the sociology of poverty.” What he meant, was clear – it’s a business. And since he too was a business man, he likes the business model of Wits, but what no one has told you is that, promises which justify fee hikes are hardly ever delivered. We pay for more, but see the same thing. eg, the university could say the hikes are to raise money for new student residences, but when those are built, fee is again raised with justification that bank loans have to be paid – begging the question, was the hike not so that housing is affordable?. Scam of the year!!!

    The President or Minister of Higher Education need to establish a commission of enquiry into causes of student strikes and the role that university management plays either in averting or triggering strikes.

    1. Thulasizwe says

      Well articulated Sir, all incredibly valid points, thank you.

    2. Douglas says

      Pontsho Pilane, very well written article. You are a bright youg lady. South Africa is far more advanced gender policies, you and I are both surrounded by far more female leaders than in most countries around the globe. In the African context, South Africa seems even more progressive. The “Fees must fall“ initiative was driven and focused. To distract it with issues of gender is inappropriate and shows an unbalanced view on this issue.

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