The University of Witwatersrand vice-chancellor, Adam Habib, told the Mail & Guardian on Tuesday that he will not withdraw the suspension of seven Wits students and EFF members.
This comes after of a group of Wits academic staff signed a petition requesting Habib drop the suspensions.
In an interview with the M&G, Habib said there were some academics who disagreed with his decision to suspend the seven students and that one colleague even asked him to not act “extra judiciary”.
The seven students who are also part of Wits EFF were suspended after the Student Representative Council (SRC) election debate ended in physical altercations between members of Wits EFF, the ANC-affiliated Progressive Youth Alliance (PYA) and Project W – a non-politically affiliated student representative group – last Tuesday.
Members of Wits EFF were suspended and Wits EFF was derecognised from the institution for “breaking electoral rules and provoking violence”, said Habib.
On being questioned by his colleagues on his decision to suspend mostly Wits EFF members from the university, Habib told the M&G: “I responded saying is it not bad to get to this position based on ideological ground and not empirical evidence. I did an analysis of events, I took the time to consult with [Wits] Senate and Council but at the end of the day I make the decision. The [Higher Education] Act does not say the majority must decide,” said Habib.
This decision came under heavy criticism after it was revealed that some members of Senate thought it premature to suspend the seven students.
According to student newspaper Wits Vuvuzela, associate sociology professor Zimitri Erasmus said Habib needed to be more mindful about the ways he uses his power and authority.
“Given both the fragility of this moment at Wits, and the widespread perception that the VC’s response to student activism thus far has been repressive, a more peaceable or amicable approach on the part of the VC would be, in our view, more conducive to transformation and more supportive of cultivating a democratic ethos,” said Erasmus.
Habib told the M&G that people had been violent and threatened violence. He said the executive of Wits EFF and Wits EFF as a club had refused to give assurance that it would follow the rules.
On Monday, Wits EFF was reinstated into the institution because it had agreed to follow the code and conduct of Wits University, said Habib.
Habib said it was disingenuous to suggest that action had been taken against the seven students because of their position on transformation.
“Some people are trying to put the two together. No one is saying we must undermine transformation but it doesn’t mean you must beat up people,” he said.
When push comes to shove the vice chancellor is responsible for the security and safety of 33 000 students, said Habib.
Suspended Wits EFF member Vuyani Pambo said Habib ran the risk of being seen as having an agenda. Pambo said members of PYA and Project W were also engaged in the physical altercation but it was mainly Wits EFF members that were suspended.