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Statement: Events on the Wits Library Lawns pertaining to Israeli Apartheid Week

- Wits University

Wits' Senior Executive Team explains the University's decisions and actions taken in demonstrations.

This week, some students held an event on the Library Lawns which highlighted the Palestinian plight. This led to a temporary standoff with security until Deputy Vice-Chancellor, Professor Zeblon Vilakazi, intervened and negotiated a truce.

The Wits Management’s concern was not with this unsanctioned event, but with the duplicitous way in which it was undertaken and the potential consequences thereof.

Members of the Wits Palestinian Solidarity Committee (PSC) decided to host a series of events in the week before Israeli Apartheid Week. To do this without alerting anyone, they resorted to using members of the Wits Orienteering Club to book the lawns for the week under the pretence of other activities. Yet, they essentially planned to host a series of events that would normally be associated with Israeli Apartheid Week.

In these actions, these student leaders deliberately misled the management of the University. This was particularly irresponsible for it meant the University was not forewarned to put in place the appropriate security measures, which we deem important given that violence has broken out at Wits during previous events associated with the Palestinian/Israeli issues.

This is why for over two years, Wits has instated a rule that any Palestinian/Israeli event on campus must be brought to the attention of the Vice-Chancellor’s Office so that appropriate precautions taken. Moreover, the decision to mislead management about this event was particularly dangerous, given the current climate in the higher education sector and the deliberate attempt by some forces to bring academic programmes to a close. Wits has experienced acts of violence, arson, vandalism and malicious damage to property on our campuses in recent weeks.

There are some student leaders (and others) who deride the threat of violence, but they of course have no responsibility to protect the lives of 34 000 students and thousands of others in the university community. 

As we have said before, rights come with responsibilities. Too often some demand rights but never accept the responsibilities that should accompany those rights.

There are also concerns about the administrative and organisational implications of this kind of behaviour. If clubs and societies are allowed to mislead university management about their activities, it would create administrative and organisational mayhem within the University.

Our University establishes rules so that we can coordinate the various activities of the University community. All must be held accountable to these rules, or we risk the rights of various sections of our community being violated by others who believe that their rights should take precedence. Our Constitution insists that all are equal before the law, and all of us must abide by this fundamental principle of the human community.

Wits management decided not to forcibly remove the exhibition that was on display on Tuesday as we felt that it had the potential to heighten political temperatures and threaten the uneasy peace and stability that we have established in recent days. However, we were forced again to bring in additional security to ensure the safety and security of all.

Going forward, we expect all students to follow the University’s correct channels, processes and procedures for their events to be considered and approved. We will, in the coming days, decide on whether restrictions should be placed on the activities of organisations during Israeli Apartheid Week. We will also place on Council’s agenda the surreptitious way in which decisions and actions were undertaken concerning these events, the risks to which the University community were exposed and whether any actions should be taken against individuals and/or clubs and societies. 

This kind of disruptive, deceitful action cannot be dealt with through security. We, as a University, must hold members of our community to account when they deliberately transgress our rules, policies and procedures. We urge all sections of the University community to remember that rights come with responsibilities. We also urge them to pursue their rights without compromising the safety and security of our community.

We will also continue to keep the University community informed on developments in this regard.

SENIOR EXECUTIVE TEAM

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