Johannesburg – Wits University has decided to reopen its campuses, after three weeks of disruptions of academic activities over fee increases.
However, students will be faced with a major security presence as they return to lecture halls.The decision follows the results of an audited poll on Friday indicating that most students wished to return to class. Out of the 21 730 responses, 16 739 voted for lectures to resume while 4 991 voted against that, the university said.
The preliminary results of a staff poll showed that 91 percent wished to return to work on Monday.On Sunday afternoon, Wits University said all staff members were expected to arrive on campus on Monday, while the academic programme would resume in full on Tuesday.
The phased opening follows talks with various role-players, including students, but would come with increased security.
“The presence of private security and police is not ideal and we understand that students and academics are not comfortable with academic activities occurring in an environment with a visible security presence. However, we are left with no choice,” it said.
The added security could be withdrawn “if the protesting students undertook not to impinge on the rights of those who wish to learn and work”.
Earlier on Sunday, a group of about 200 students had gathered at the university’s Solomon Mahlangu House to discuss the way forward.
The meeting was closed to the media. However, sources have indicated that further protests were set down for the day.
Since Higher Education Minister Blade Nzimande announced last month it would be up to universities to decide on fee increases next year but can cap that at 8 percent, campuses countrywide have faced the wrath of students calling for free tertiary education.
University management at multiple institutions said the protesters disrupting classes and vandalising property were but a vocal minority, and that should the academic year not proceed, students risked not graduating.
Significant police presence is expected at other tertiary institutions countrywide.
The University of Johannesburg said it would ensure classes continued this week, despite one of its buildings on the Soweto campus being set alight on Saturday.
The University of Cape Town was also set to continue with lectures Monday. But the Student Representative Council (SRC) has warned students not to return to classes. The SRC said in a statement on Sunday it did not support the council’s decision to reopen the institution.
“We do not support nor encourage the return of students to class tomorrow [Monday], with the presence of private security and without proper engagement between all stakeholders involved with a clear resolution,” the SRC statement said.
The safety and security of students and staff would be at risk as it remained unclear whether university management had made any headway regarding the protesters and the “interdict and tribunal processes”.
“It would be disingenuous on our part if we were were to encourage students to return to resume classes knowing tensions between stakeholders remained, which proves to not be a condusive environment to students to continue with their studies properly,” the SRC said.
Early on Tuesday #UCTshutdown was trending on Twitter with heavy traffic delays been reported in the vicinity of the campus. The details of what was causing the delays were unclear.
Seven students were arrested at the University of KwaZulu-Natal over the weekend, after a computer room on the campus was burnt down. The university has indicated that the academic programme would continue as usual.