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Update: New security systems in place

- Wits University

Statement from the Senior Executive Team on measures to curb unlawful activities.

On Monday, a group of about 150 individuals, some of whom were Wits students and workers, disrupted some lectures, intimidated and harassed staff and students, and started a fire in an empty lecture theatre. Fortunately, the fire was extinguished quickly and no one was injured. We acted as quickly as we could to stabilise the situation and all academic activities resumed on Tuesday with no further incident.

Management condemns the behaviour of this group in the strongest possible terms. These unlawful activities are appalling and a violation of everything for which the University stands. In addition, there was a deliberate manipulation of facts by this group of individuals to garner support from unwary individuals. This was an abuse of the University and its protocols by a narrow group of people who orchestrated a campaign to advance their own political agendas. This abuse of Wits University will not be tolerated.

The University reiterates that no student will be deregistered if they have not made payment by 31 March 2016.

The Senior Executive Team apologises to all students, staff members, parents and visitors who were affected by the incidents that occurred on Monday. We are aware that some women and vulnerable groups in particular were deliberately targeted. We urge you to report all incidents of gender violence to the Gender Equity Office and all other incidents to Campus Control.

New systems in place

In the interests of the safety and security of the larger Wits community, and to protect our property, the University has implemented the following measures with immediate effect:

  1. All access control points have been bolstered. Staff and students now need to produce their access cards to gain entry to our campuses. Anyone found aiding or abetting suspended students or allowing anyone else onto campus by swiping their access cards will be held accountable.
  2. Visitors are required to report to security before coming on to campus.
  1. Additional private security members have been brought onto our campuses and have been deployed at key points outside major lecture halls, residences and test venues.
  2. There were regrettable delays in the police’s response, despite the fact that we have repeatedly engaged them in this regard. We are now independently establishing a rapid response unit that will enable roving security capacity on and between campuses at Wits and our sister institutions.
  1. The South African Police Services stationed on the parameter of our campuses and will be called on if required.
  2. An extensive review of campus security is also underway.

We are aware that some staff members and students may not be comfortable with these security arrangements. Unfortunately, we are left with no choice today but to bring in private security as we have not been afforded any viable alternatives from critics in this regard.

Suspension and barring orders

The University has suspended five students who have been identified as instigators and/or participants in illegal activities on campus on Monday and who have contravened the court order that the University obtained earlier this year. We are assessing all the evidence that we have gathered and we will act against anyone else who has been identified as having engaged in unlawful activities.

There was a demand that individuals who were suspended be allowed back onto our campuses. We want to make clear that they were suspended for alleged criminal activity, including attempted arson. The University will not consider allowing such individuals back onto our campuses. Those who are asking us to do so are showing a lack of commitment to the collective safety and security of all.

All external individuals who were involved in illegal activities on Monday are barred from our campuses. Their photos have been placed at all access points and security has been instructed not to allow them onto our campuses. Official complaints have been laid with their respective universities, requesting that disciplinary action be taken against them.

A case of arson has been opened at the Hillbrow Police Station and police are investigating this matter. The University is also reviewing all CCTV footage in order to try to identify the perpetrators who started the fire as well as those who were involved in unlawful activities, in violation of the University’s rules and regulations, so that we can hold them accountable for their actions.

We are aware that some students, staff, workers, including bus drivers and others were misled and misinformed by some instigators on Monday. We urge all members of the Wits community not to deliberately spread false information and to act responsibly at all times.

Conclusion

We reiterate that all students, staff, workers and others will be held accountable for their actions. We are aware that certain groups in the University community may not be comfortable with the new arrangements, but we cannot allow the safety and security of Wits to be compromised.

As a community, we can no longer speak with ambiguity. We must all condemn violence and be willing to hold accountable those who engage in violence.

Our individual safety and security is tied to our collective safety and security. It is important that if one of us is seen to be under attack, then all of us must be seen to be under attack. If we fail to do so, then the words of Martin Niemöller’s First they came… will ring true.

We thank you for your patience and support during these trying times.

Please do not hesitate to share your views with us via vco.news@wits.ac.za.

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