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Wits condemns Friday night's violence on campus and in Braamfontein

- Wits University

Update from the Senior Executive Team (10:00):

Last night saw wanton destruction in Braamfontein allegedly by some Wits students. It is absolutely unacceptable for any individual, and especially students from Wits to behave in this manner. We expect that student leaders will now take responsibility and stop the violence.

Despite last night’s events, classes will continue on Monday.

Incidents

The incidents began on campus at around 17:30 when a small group of students collected stones, attacked police and tried to destroy property. The police dispersed the group and some left for Braamfontein where they were joined by students from other places.

Another group formed and was involved in skirmishes with the police after throwing petrol bombs into Hofmeyr House and starting fires at the Professional Development Hub, the Bozzoli and the Matrix. The group of students then stoned the police outside the Sunnyside residence and the police dispersed them using stun grenades and teargas. At no point did the police enter or throw teargas into the residence.

Details are included in the separate incident report that follows from Campus Control.

Police presence

There are some in on our midst that blame us for the police presence on campus and for implementing additional security measures. They also accuse the police of sparking these events. This is disingenuous. The only reason these measures were implemented was because a group of students started four fires on our campuses on Thursday night, smashed windows, stoned buildings and flooded rooms. They stoned the fire brigade and pelted the police with bricks when they attempted to restore order. We were not able to manage this effectively in the dark.

Restrictive movement conditions were thus implemented to protect University property and for the safety and security of all students and staff.

There are some that have reported the use of excessive force by police. Should you have any information in this regard, we ask you to email the Head of Security via Mokgawa.Kobe@wits.ac.za  or call 011 717-4444.

Campus Control will investigate all such incidents. However, we do want to thank the police for keeping the campus safe under the trying conditions of last night. Obviously, security measures will be boosted tonight to ensure that life, limb and property are not put at risk.

Unacceptable violence

We know that it is a minority who has tried to cripple the academic programme through intimidation and violence. As we slowly managed to get classes back on track, there was an explicit call from some student leaders to destroy University property and to commit arson. It is shocking that some within our University would call for the wanton destruction of our own institution.

The violence in Braamfontein is completely unacceptable. Why would one destroy the Orbit where Sibongile Khumalo was performing? Why would you arbitrarily burn vehicles if you are unhappy about the fact that the academic programme is continuing? How does the one enable the other?

Shutdown not an option

There are some who say that we should stop the academic programme. Should we truly sacrifice the futures of 36 000 students? We have repeatedly said and say again that the struggle for free quality higher education does not require the sacrifice of the 2016 academic programme. The majority of students want the academic programme to continue and want to complete the year. Should we sacrifice their futures simply because a small minority wants to effect a national shutdown?

If we do shutdown, it would require the closure of the residences themselves. We are reluctant to do to this as it would impact on the poor and international students more than anyone else. This is another reason why we have to continue the academic programme.

Academic programme continues on Monday

Wits will continue with the academic programme on Monday and the police and security will be present to protect staff and students who return to class. We will continue with the academic year and we will cooperate with the police to arrest anyone involved in arson, the destruction of property and violence.

Suspensions and arrests

Students who are involved in such activities will not only be arrested but may also be suspended and even expelled by the University itself. We cannot tolerate such criminal behaviour in our midst. Should we continue to allow this, we will destroy this University. The only people that will then suffer are the students of today and future generations.

Engagement

We are open to engagement and negotiation and we believe that these issues can only be resolved through negotiated outcomes, but not at the expense of the academic programme. 

We call on all members of the University community to stand together during this trying time. We thank those students, parents, staff and others who have stood with us to keep the University open. Our sole focus must be on the completion of the academic programme. We will continue with the academic programme on Monday.

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