Witwatersrand University (Wits) vice-chancellor Adam Habib on Tuesday said that he offered to engage with student leaders, but they refused to meet.
“(I) met with some groups on [the] weekend, and they went back on [the] agreement,” Habib said.
On Monday, protesting students declared that Wits would not be open until their demands for free education were met, agreeing with management that the academic programme would resume on Tuesday.
He said he was happy to hold a general assembly and to work with, and even protest with, students to raise awareness for the issue.
The protest, which could result in the university possibly shutting down the 2016 academic year, started more than two weeks ago after Higher Education Minister Blade Nzimande announced that state universities could increase next year’s fees, but it would be capped at eight percent.
Earlier on Tuesday, rubber bullets and stun grenades were fired at students who continued to protest at Wits.
“They say [the] fight is with government and they need to send a strong message by crippling universities. This is not fair,” Habib said the students communicated.
Habib said on Monday in a statement that anyone who was caught contravening any university rules or court interdict, or infringing on the rights of others, would immediately be held accountable for their actions, and may face criminal charges. He said that if the violence continued, the university would be forced to shut down the academic programme for 2016.
Journalists, students suffer injuries
Several students and at least two journalists suffered injuries after being shot with rubber bullets by police at Wits University on Tuesday afternoon.
Tensions between police and students was escalated at the Braamfontein campus as thousands of students protested outside the Great Hall .
Several stun grenades were dispatched, first when students were marching from the West Campus and again when they gathered outside the hall.
A 6th student was being arrested, while the rest, who were arrested earlier in the morning, were consulting with lawyers at the Hillbrow Police Station.
Minutes after EFF leader Dali Mpofu pleaded with police to not shoot at students as they tried to continue their march, the crowd was dispersed yet again.
Addressing the unrelenting crowd, former SRC president Mcebo Dlamini complained that police were being violent towards them. “You all saw how we were marching peacefully. We were not violent.”
The university opened its doors on Monday after a two-week shutdown due to the Fees Must Fall protest. But the masses of students who showed up at the campus were adamant that the institution would remain shut down until government implemented free education.
While several students retaliated with stones after police shot at them, the crowd was dispersed several times.
ER24 emergency vehicles were on standby as the crowd forged on, singing and chanting as riot police brandishing guns and stun grenades faced the masses.
Rubber bullets and stun grenades fired at Wits protesters
Police fired rubber bullets and stun grenades at protesting students at Witwatersrand University (Wits) on Tuesday.
Hundreds of protesting students protesting for free education entered the Wits main campus, marched around lecture rooms, shouting and calling on those inside to “get out”.
Sherona Patel, the spokesperson for Wits, appealed to students and staff attending lectures to remain indoors until the police are able to bring the situation under control.
Economic Freedom Fighters’ (EFF) national chairperson Advocate Dali Mpofu, who was at the Wits campus, said he was there in support of the students with no political hat, but as a parent and South African citizen.
“If police want to shoot our children, they must shoot us,” said Mpofu.
The protests, which caused the university to shut down, started more than two weeks ago after Higher Education Minister Blade Nzimande announced that state universities could increase next year’s fees capped at eight percent.
Earlier on Tuesday, Wits management said two students had been arrested for disobeying police orders. The students would be suspended, the university said.
Two students arrested, lectures under way at Wits
Witwatersrand University management on Tuesday said lectures were under way and police had fired stun grenades to disperse protesting students who had attempted to gather outside the Great Hall.
On Monday protesting students declared that the institution would not be open until their demands for free education were met.
The protests, which caused the university to shut down, started more than two weeks ago after Higher Education Minister Blade Nzimande announced that state universities could increase next year’s fees, capped at eight percent.
Wits management hired private security and called in police to ensure that the academic activities could resume on Tuesday.
“A group of students wearing balaclavas were asked to disperse this morning. They refused to do so, and the police used stun grenades to disperse them. We have received reports that two students have been arrested this morning for violating a court order. Notices of suspension for these students are being prepared,” said a Tuesday statement from Wits, which was attributed to the institution’s senior executive team.
Wits management also said the institution had been alerted that some staff had been requested to form a human barrier between police and students.
“Staff should not engage in such activities, as this would be abetting protest and would undermine our attempts to get the academic programme back on track,” the institution warned.
Wits also “thanked” students who attended lectures.
“We are particularly appreciative that you are working with us to win back the campus. The interdict remains in place and the university will enforce it if required,” they said.
Student activities marched around the campus shouting slogans calling for the closure of the university. They loudly called on those attending lectures to “get out” and join the protest.
Wits attempted shutdown hits curve ball
The attempted shutdown of Wits university hit a curve ball on Tuesday morning when students gathered to protest outside the Great Hall at the Braaamfontein campus were met with stun grenades as a heavy contingent of police and security detail moved to disperse the crowd.
#FeesMustFall leader and SRC member Busisiwe Seabe was arrested, apparently while trying to negotiate with police, along two other students. Chaos ensued at the campus food court where students reportedly threw yoghurt and coffee at security guards and overturned rubbish bins.
Despite the crowd dispersal, there were still scores of students outside the Great Hall with some gathered outside the residences.
Now in its third week, the #FeesMustFall protest at wits has been condemned by the university government which decided on a zero-tolerance policy by the Security Cluster on Fees Must Fall protests.
As a way forward was being discussed among SRC members, students were instructed to meet at an undisclosed location as a gathering point to continue protesting. ‘We will not be deterred’ a student was heard saying.
‘They can arrest all off us if they want.’
Police fire stun grenades to disperse Wits students