The violence that has engulfed several institutions of higher learning cannot be stopped by university vice-chancellors alone, according to professor Adam Habib.
The vice-chancellor of Wits University was responding to the discovery of petrol bombs on the Wits campus over the weekend. He spoke against the backdrop of the violent student protests over free education that has rocked campuses over recent days.
Speaking to The Citizen yesterday, Habib said the violent protests were unacceptable and needed all members of society’s immediate intervention.
“[It] has to be stopped by parents, students, churches and political parties. [They have] to say the destruction of our universities cannot happen under our watch.
“The petrol bombs that were discovered at Wits also shows the great need for universities to deploy private security officers because, for some time now, people have destroyed and burnt university property and no one has been arrested,” said Habib.
He stressed that violent protests at universities could not be left unattended and warned that institutions of higher learning could be destroyed. Asked for comment on a statement attributed to ANC secretary-general Gwede Mantashe about universities being shut down for a period of six months, Habib said the remarks were irresponsible.
“There is no logic in shutting down universities,” said Habib. “Such a move would have dire consequences, as thousands of graduates will not be produced.”
Meanwhile, Gauteng police confirmed that three petrol bombs were found at Wits University on Saturday.
A Premier Soccer League (PSL) encounter between Bidvest Wits and Orlando Pirates, which was scheduled for Saturday night, was also postponed for security reasons.
According to police spokesperson Lungelo Dlamini, the petrol bombs were found by an employee in the gardening services departments.
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“The matter is currently under investigation,” Dlamini said. “Our police officers will remain at Wits until such time that we are satisfied that the campus is safe.”
Wits spokesperson Shirona Patel also confirmed the petrol bomb discovery.
“The university can confirm that three petrol bombs were found on the Braamfontein campus behind a building close to a fence,” she said.
“This confirms that there are people who will go to any lengths to put the lives of members of the Wits community in danger, as well as destroy public property.”
She said all university activities would remain suspended until further notice.
No end in sight
Meanwhile, there seems to be no end in sight to the ongoing “free education for all” protests which turned violent last week.
Several other universities have also decided to suspend all academic activities until calm is restored. Nkehlizana Mbanjwa from the #FeesMustFall movement told The Citizen that students at the University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN) would continue until free tertiary education was made available to everyone.
Elsewhere, at Wits University in Johannesburg, student representative council president Kefentse Mkhari said while he was not at liberty to discuss what the plan of action for this week was, protests would continue until their demands were met.
“However, I can confirm that we have been in discussion with other universities with the aim of coming up with a consolidated approach,” he said.
At the North-West University Vaal campus, it was likewise not clear what would transpire today, following the court order which was obtained by the institution on Friday barring students from protesting.
At UCT in Cape Town, vice-chancellor Max Price said while they would not hold graduations, the suspension of lectures would not prevent the completion of the academic year, nor the writing of final exams.