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Looking back, going forward

- Wits University

Circular 16 from the Vice Chancellor and Principal, Professor Adam Habib:

The student body, nationally, has led an historic struggle in pursuit of affordable, quality education for all. We acknowledge both the importance of their struggle, and their courage in pursuing it. They have taught the nation many lessons in deepening our democratic project. 

The past few days have seen a number of groups at the University transcend their political boundaries and unite around a common set of concerns related to the #FeesMustFall campaign. The unification of the groups, and the subsequent engagement with Management, has resulted in a set of agreements – set out in the nine point plan – that has enabled the reopening of the University and the resumption of the academic programme for the benefit of all. The ongoing commitment to engagement and the resulting series of agreements will make Wits a more accessible, affordable and unified University. We can all be proud of how Wits has maintained open channels of communication and found common ground even when, in the darkest hours, this seemed impossible. 

It is worth recalling the chain of events as they unfolded in recent days. 

  1. The students at Wits launched their #FeesMustFall campaign on Wednesday, 14 October 2015. It spread into a national campaign by Monday, 19 October 2015, and reached a crescendo through a march to the Union Buildings on Friday, 23 October 2015. 
  1. At a meeting held at the Union Buildings on Friday, 23 October 2015, the Presidency, students and universities agreed on a 0% fee increase for 2016. This was the result of the combined efforts of the student movement and its allies across the country. 
  1. On the basis of this agreement, the Senior Executive Team (SET) developed a nine point proposal which it circulated to the University community on Monday, 26 October 2015. 
  1. A written response to the proposal was received on the same day, signed by both the incoming and outgoing SRCs, that was broadly in agreement with the nine point proposal. It included a call for the reopening of the University on Wednesday, 28 October 2015 and it was on this basis that Management and Council decided to reopen the University. No formal meeting with the SRC took place in this regard. 
  1. A second response from the SRC was received on Wednesday, 28 October 2015 and circulated. The SET acknowledged receipt of the response, which included many issues already covered in the nine point plan, but also some new demands which could not be realised. Some SET and SRC representatives also met on Thursday and Friday to work through the details of the postponement of the examination period and related matters. 
  1. On Thursday, 29 October 2015, the SET received a separate memorandum from a group of workers in outsourced services and students on the Senate House Concourse. There was a request for the SET to engage with the group, which we did. It was agreed that SET representatives would meet with representatives from the group on Friday, 30 October 2015. This engagement, led by Deputy Vice-Chancellor, Professor Tawana Kupe, took place and reached a set of resolutions. The mandate of the task team to investigate insourcing, as specified in the original nine point proposal, was reformulated to include an in principle agreement to insourcing and ways in which it can be undertaken. This new mandate was accepted by the workers and students, in addition to a number of other agreements, on Sunday, 1 November 2015. 

On the basis of these various engagements, we believe that all stakeholder groups have given their commitment for the University to be fully operational with immediate effect. This is a major achievement for everyone at Wits. 

We urge the University community to recognise that if we are to chart a new, nobler politics that speaks to the interests of all constituencies and earns their respect, then our conduct needs to transcend the short-term, and put the long-term interests of the entire University community first. We should all recognise that this historical moment has been made possible through the collective efforts of students and their allies, including workers, as well as the countless individual acts of kindness and support from students, academics, support staff, workers, parents and others.

We urge all parties to now focus on the conclusion of this year’s academic programme, and we wish our students well in the upcoming examinations.