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Response to letters and calls from concerned Wits community

- Wits University

Here follows the response from the Senior Executive Team to messages from concerned students, parents and staff:

We have been inundated with responses from staff, students and parents (read a selection of the messages) following the release of a statement indicating that Wits University will be closed until further notice. The academic programme can only continue once we can re-establish a safe and secure learning environment. 

Let us first address the issue of violence, which has been a common concern through all the responses. Let us be clear – Wits’ executive management has always denounced violence, and all our recent communication has done the same. We condemn any form of violence and encourage all parties to engage constructively to find a long-term solution to these issues. 

Many have accused us of not anticipating the protests and not having contingency plans in place. In fact, we have been two steps ahead the whole of this year, and despite multiple attempts to close us down, we did not lose a single day. Even this protest was anticipated and, unlike many other universities, we resisted closing down. We remained open for the entire day on Monday, largely because of the deployment of private security. 

However, on Monday our security began to fracture. This is for two reasons: the police were not arresting the students, and when they did, they released them, which made things difficult. Secondly, the quality of the private security began to decline partly because all universities required them, and less trained security personnel began to be deployed. This then culminated in a situation where private security, after being provoked by students who stoned them, lost their discipline and started throwing stones as well. 

The throwing of stones by anyone is unacceptable and we are further investigating this incident. Following this incident, and confronted with the prospect of serious injuries, we suspended the University programme. 

Nowhere in the world does a university, when confronted with such challenges, have to address the problem on its own. In most societies, appropriately trained police will address the situation in a non-violent way. We cannot rely on the response of the police in our country and this is the primary problem. 

This matter cannot be resolved by vice-chancellors and higher education executives alone. We need the voices of ordinary citizens and students to be heard because when good people remain silent, the extreme political minority get carte blanche to determine the future of our institutions and society. 

We are extremely concerned about the willingness of some students and academics to sacrifice Wits and the future of our students for a political fight that is truly meant to be directed elsewhere. 

We would like to hear from all our staff, students, parents and members of the public. More importantly, we encourage you to make your voices heard publicly. Only collectively can we save Wits and the higher education system in a South Africa.