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Wits humanities academics say reopening could endanger lives

The Heads of Schools at the University of the Witwatersrand’s Faculty of Humanities – the School of Education, School of Social Sciences, School of Human and Social Development, School of Language, Literature and Media and School of Arts – have released a statement condemning private security presence on campus, and stating that the academic programme cannot continue under high levels of intimidation.

We, the Heads of Schools of the Faculty of Humanities, recognise that the student protests are a symptom of a national crisis that is driven by chronic underfunding of universities. This national, state-driven structural problem cannot be resolved at the level of our institutions. The South African government cannot continue to devolve the responsibility for managing this crisis to university managements, who are forced into an impossible and conflictual situation. We are worried that the continued concentration of the crisis on campuses will both derail the academic programme and consistently defer the question of the state’s responsibility.

We have grave reservations about reopening academic activity on our campus if the opening depends on a heavy-handed security response which we fear creates a volatile situation on campus and is unlikely to lead to a long- term solution to the crisis at Wits and in higher education more generally. Already we are confronted with students refusing the reopening.

Much as we value the continuation of the academic programme, we cannot complete the academic programme under high levels of intimidation.

We therefore call on all the stakeholders in the university to:

1. Continue to pressurise the state for a resolution to the funding of universities, so that universities will not have to confront the cycle of annual and ongoing protest and shutdown. The student movement and university structures will not be able to engage in good faith unless this condition is met.
2. Continue to foster a process at Wits that could allow for the academic programme to resume without heightened securitisation. This could take the form of sustained cross-sector dialogue, a university assembly, collective consideration of the various funding models, including the student movement’s proposed funding model, a process of extensive and representative negotiation with democratically elected representatives. This should include a process of reflection on all of our roles in the ongoing crisis, and in our attempts to resolve it.
3. Commit seriously to negotiation and action around the call for free, decolonized education in South Africa.

Featured image by Yeshiel Panchia

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