Open universities gear for nationwide protests

The five "open" universities are likely to set aside one day next week to demonstrate their opposition to the new government measures designed to stifle campus dissent. In addition, large sections of the academic communities at most of those campuses will refuse to implement the regulations.

According to University of the Witwatersrand deputy vice-chancellor, Mervyn Shear, Wits – and possibly Cape Town, Western Cape, Natal and Rhodes – will hold a general assembly, followed by a march of the entire university community, led by the vice-chancellor and deputy vice-chancellors.

It was hoped all the "open" universities would take the same action, at the same time on the same day, he said. Shear was addressing an overflowing hall of students at a meeting called by the Black Students Society to plan a protest march against the regulations. He told them he would never implement the regulations on campus.

An early confrontation with the state over the regulations was narrowly averted by the skilful intervention of Professor June Sinclair, dean of the law faculty. Police while keeping a low profile, were waiting in side streets around the campus. The call from black students had been to march off campus but Sinclair, in a strong speech of solidarity, called on them to wait until next week to march in unity with the entire university community, nationwide.

She pledged her and many of her colleagues' refusal to implement the regulations regardless of decisions made by the University Council, the university's governing body, and promised to suffer police rubber bullets and tear gas with students. A large group consisting mainly of black students then marched on campus to the administration block to make their feelings known.

Shear and Sinclair strongly voiced the academic community's strenuous refusal to implement the regulations. It is a feeling shared by most senates and large groups of academics who have taken decisions in staff associations. It was clear from the meeting, however, that while unity of action and purpose is paramount at the moment students will use several other weapons, like boycotting classes, to resist the implementation of the regulations. 

This article originally appeared in the Weekly Mail.


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