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Role of universities as public interlocutors of dialogue

- Senior Executive Team

STATEMENT: Universities have an important role to play in upholding democracy, in speaking truth to power, and in facilitating debate.

Institutions of higher learning are also crucial in providing a platform for diverse voices to be heard.

For 100 years, Wits has participated in the intellectual debates of the day which have enabled robust engagement between parties and entities with differing views, ideas, and ideologies.

As an institution, we remain committed to:

  • academic freedom, autonomy, accountability, tolerance of difference of opinion, and transparency,
  • democracy, justice, equality, and freedom from racism and sexism as enshrined in the Constitution,
  • promoting freedom of enquiry and the search for knowledge and truth,
  • fostering a culturally diverse, intellectually stimulating and harmonious environment within which there is vigorous critical exchange and communication, and
  • freedom of speech and public debate, through facilitating dialogue and interaction between different parties, with the goal of increasing mutual respect and trust, amongst others. 

It was in this context that we invited the Minister of Public Enterprises, Mr Pravin Gordhan to speak on campus at a public event on the Reform and Governance of State-Owned Enterprises, as part of its efforts to discuss critical issues around governance and public policy. The Minister completed his speech and was then regrettably heckled during the Q&A session. Rather than engaging constructively, a few attendees made derogatory remarks and began shouting and insulting the Minister, thus not allowing him to respond to questions, which led to the facilitator ending proceedings. Notwithstanding the frustrations that everyone feels regarding the current energy crisis, the nature of the engagement subsequent to the delivery of the speech was not constructive.

As this was a public event open to all, including students from other universities, the University is in the process of reviewing the video footage in order to determine the next course of action.

The University will continue to encourage critical debate and the tolerance of diverse views, whilst providing an opportunity for different voices to be heard in a respectful manner. 

Thank you


8 JULY 2022