In the early hours of Saturday morning, the call for #WitsFeesMustFall was heeded by executive members of the Wits Council – for now at least.
“The University will suspend the decision on all fee increments made for 2016. There will be no fee increments until negotiations reach an agreement,” a university statement said.
After three days of protest and a shut down of the university, Council, the highest decision-making body at Wits, sat down to an emergency Exco meeting on Friday night, witnessed by hundreds of students in the Senate House Concourse. Vice-Chancellor Adam Habib sat with students on the floor of the Senate House concourse until the meeting was convened at 7pm .
For those who have not seen it, this is the contract signed by Exco in the wee hours of this morning. pic.twitter.com/CrnDT66dWW
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It was hours, however, before an agreement was reached. The Chair of Council, deputy Vice-Chancellor Randall Carollisen began by telling students that he would not take instructions from them. “I am here to talk to you. I am not here to take instructions,” he said. While students made their feelings known by heckling Carollisen, student leaders Mcebo Dlamini and Vuyani Pambo urged students to remain disciplined. The crowds were in high spirits throughout – the meeting only officially convened after midnight, when the Exco sitting reached quorum – but students were energetic, singing and putting their views forward throughout the night.
Eventually, at almost 5am, Exco agreed to suspend the demand to suspend the fee increment, and an official agreement between the students and the Executive of Council was signed.
Fasiha Hassan, member of both the outgoing and incoming Students’ Representative Council (SRC) told The Daily Vox exclusively that the SRC and students are “exhausted but very happy”.
“It definitely seems very unreal.. It’s not the end point, but it’s a step in the right direction. It’s most importantly indicative of the progress made and of the fact that management is starting to take us seriously,” she said
Student leaders have however urged caution.
“If we don’t get a favourable response at 12 on Monday, we will keep fighting and there’s a chance that exams may not happen. Protesting will continue, we made it clear to Council,” Hassan said.
Should the proposed change still be based on inflation, Hassan says the SRC will take back that proposal to the students.
“If they are saying they’re unhappy, we take our directive from them and no one else,” she said.
And while the suspension of the proposed fee increase at Wits is a victory for students, it does not detract from the greater funding crisis facing institutions across the country.
Hassan says students have been deliberately excluded in the high level deliberations with Minister of Higher Education Blade Nzimande over the fate of university funding. “If we are in that situation there will have to be a third party stream, to fill the gap, which the university should arrange. It’s the university’s job to provide us with an education, and not run it like a business,” she said.
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Image credits: Pontsho Pilane and Aaisha Dadi Patel /The Daily Vox