Wits general assembly postponed as negotiations break down

Students protesting outside Wits last week. (Sebabatso Mosamo, M&G)

Students protesting outside Wits last week. (Sebabatso Mosamo, M&G)

Mediators and students met until the early hours of this morning, but the University Of Witwatersrand released a statement saying the much anticipated general assembly would be postponed.

Mediation between students and management had been facilitated by religious leaders, the protesting students’ legal representative Dali Mpofu, former leaders of the student representative council and the Black Student Society since Tuesday evening. But on Thursday night, the current Wits SRC released a list of demands which the university management says it cannot agree to.

“The protesting students effectively want the General Assembly and the march to the Constitutional Court to continue, without committing that the academic programme will commence on Monday, as previously promised,” the university’s senior executive team said in a statement.

“One of the latest demands of the protesting students is that Wits and all other universities should be shut down until government agrees to free education.”

The university also said that because no agreement had been reached on the format of the general assembly, there were security concerns if tensions would break out between students and management. The university said the students proposed an open floor engagement.

One former student leader, Vuyani Pambo, said the university had gone forward to poll the university community on whether the academic programme should resume, despite many students disagreeing with the poll.

The Wits SRC included in their list of demands that management officiate a shutdown until government commits to legislating free decolonised education for all South Africans immediately, and that the university and vice-chancellor Adam Habib agree to march with students on provincial and national government sites.

In a press briefing on Friday morning, Habib stated that one of the key points that led to a negotiation breakdown was that students had refused to commit to the resumption of Wits’ academic programme on Monday after the general assembly had been undertaken.

Habib also said that he agrees that free decolonised education is possible in South Africa – negating the view of many South Africans that free education is unfeasible – but that it should not come at the cost of the 2016 academic year.

The university council – the highest decision-making body of the university – will meet over the weekend to discuss what should now be done.

Students are angry about the postponement of the assembly. Former Wits #FeesMustFall leader Shaeera Kalla said students were not notified about the postponement until the university released its statement on social media early this morning.

The general assembly was to have taken place at 11am this morning. The university said the general assembly will be held when there is a consensus among all stakeholders.

Students are determined to go ahead with the assembly today. The students will release a statement at 12.30pm.

Ra'eesa Pather

Ra'eesa Pather

Ra’eesa Pather is a general news journalist with the Mail & Guardian’s online team. She cut her teeth at The Daily Vox in Cape Town before moving to Johannesburg and joining the M&G. She's written about memory, race and gender in columns and features, and has dabbled in photography. Read more from Ra'eesa Pather

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