Johannesburg – Wits University is adamant the academic programme will continue, despite the escalation in violent protests. Management indicated they would not back down on beefing up security to ensure the university remained open.
“The operational control of the security is in the hands of the police and they have agreed to deploy resources on a building-by-building basis tomorrow,” Wits’ senior executive committee said on Monday.
The committee said the rioters would be arrested, as directed by the police.
On Monday, just over half of all lectures went ahead across Wits campuses, according to the statement.
The university said it was willing to address all students’ issues and hold an imbizo, provided there was a guarantee for peaceful talks.
“We are happy to address all internal issues as described earlier but it is beyond our control to give students free education now.”
On Monday, motorists and pedestrians were caught in the crossfire between the protesting students and police officers. This was as the clashes spilt over on to the streets of Braamfontein.
Some protesters pelted passing motorists with rocks and closed off the streets they were occupying.
In retaliation, a large contingent of police officers drove through the streets and fired several rounds of rubber bullets and teargas in a bid to disperse the crowds. Some students then retaliated at the officers as others ran for cover.
Among the protesters was Mawande Mhamhe, who said he was fully behind the #FeesMustFall movement, even if it meant he did not finish his degree in time.
“My mother had to sell her car for me to register this year,and my sister had to take a gap year because there isn’t enough money to send both of us to university.”
The day began with students storming the university’s campuses, while dancing and singing Struggle songs
Some entered lecture rooms and disrupted lessons, with many of the students opting to leave their classes.
One, who did not want to be named, told The Star that she wanted classes to resume as she feared she wouldn’t complete the academic year in time.
Although she said she wasn’t forced out of the lecture room, the student decided to leave on her own accord.
Once the masses gathered, they stationed themselves outside Solomon Mahlangu House, where they peacefully sang and danced in protest.
But when they tried to access the building to hold a meeting, campus security refused them entry, which escalated into a violent uproar.
Some students then began hurling rocks at the security personnel, forcing the police to step in, and they fired several rounds of rubber bullets, teargas and a water cannon.
The protesters then started to throw rocks and bricks at the officers, which resulted in the groups taking their battle to the streets.
Violent student protests across the country erupted last month when the government announced a 2017 fee increase.
Higher Education Minister Blade Nzimande said he was disturbed by the violence at Wits, which has been the epicentre of the protests in Gauteng.
He accused students of being disrespectful, irresponsible, and holding to ransom attempts to continue with the academic programme.
“This is a critical time for the academic programme with examinations fast approaching, therefore it is of paramount importance for classes and lectures to resume without delay,” said Nzimande in a statement.