Wits academics still fretting over  ‘securitisation’

Emotions ran high during a staff meeting at the University of the Witwatersrand last week over the much-criticised police and security action on campus during last year’s violent fee protests.

Campuses were calm this week as students returned to class. But, with the possibility that protests may resume, the “securitisation” of campuses remains a burning issue.

At a meeting between academics from the humanities department and Wits vice-chancellor Adam Habib, some academics raised last year’s presence of police and private security guards on campus, which, according to a senior academic, resulted in “heated exchanges”.

“The university believes it had no choice but to bring in the police and private security and Adam reiterated those arguments,” said the academic.

But there were “people who strongly raised concerns about the consequences of the securitisation of universities and what it means for the academic project and for the nature of universities,” he said.


“Adam reiterated the administration’s reasons for doing it and people voiced their opposition again. It was collegial but heated.”

The humanities department comprises five schools, namely, social science, arts, education, language literature and community development.

The academic said Habib had agreed that a round-table discussion, “where we can engage openly and robustly” on the education crisis, including the nature of protests and securitisation, would be convened by the dean of humanities, Professor Ruksana Osman. For me, that was the main outcome of the meeting.”

The academic said the meeting was not unusual, adding: “Adam has been going around meeting all the faculties and consulting academics about a range of issues, including plans for the year and budgets.”

He said the criticism was “about securitisation. None of the criticism was directed at Adam personally. It was about the kind of general situation around securitisation and the funding crisis.”

Another senior academic did not believe that the discussion was heated. “People put their views quite strongly but I wouldn’t call that heated.

“It’s clear there are very different views in the faculty about whether the way the student protests were handled was appropriate or not.

“I thought that the interventions from the auditorium, including mine, were quite calm and reasoned. There wasn’t a kind of a confrontational approach.”

Wits spokesperson Shirona Patel said universities were open spaces for the contestation of ideas and freedom of expression.

“Academics, including the vice-chancellor, are free to raise and debate issues and ideas on contentious topics. The vice-chancellor has been meeting staff in all faculties in recent weeks and has debated several issues, including those related to student protests, funding of the higher education sector, security, transformation, research and teaching and learning.”

She said these were key topics, which needed debate and discussion.

Patel said that at the humanities meeting, four or five academics raised issues about the securitisation of the campus. “This was by no means a heated meeting. It was, however, a robust engagement in which the vice-chancellor clarified to individuals that, if they had an alternative analysis or solutions, they were free to publicly write about these, as would be the case at any university that prizes the contestation of ideas.”

She said the humanities faculty held a wide range of views, and these questions and thoughts were presented by only one group in the faculty. “We must not assume by any means that there is a single homogenous view in any of our faculties.”

Subscribe to the M&G

These are unprecedented times, and the role of media to tell and record the story of South Africa as it develops is more important than ever.

The Mail & Guardian is a proud news publisher with roots stretching back 35 years, and we’ve survived right from day one thanks to the support of readers who value fiercely independent journalism that is beholden to no-one. To help us continue for another 35 future years with the same proud values, please consider taking out a subscription.

Related stories

Hashtag lessons from the US and South Africa about racism and antiblackness

The #Black Lives Matter, #RhodesMustFall and #FeesMustFall movements show that democracy cannot happen without decolonisation

Unnatural: Conservation is yet another legacy of colonialism

Using assumptions and faulty tools leads to racist conclusions about why so few black students are taking up biological sciences

Party political meddling threatens future of universities

Campuses elsewhere in Africa have seen the damage done by student activism influenced by political parties, a matter that has raised concern at South Africa’s higher education institutions

Students need unity from leadership, not Twitter wars

Universities South Africa is an important voice that we should look to in the higher education sector. Unfortunately it is often inaudible

Covid-19 lockdown pushes Wits University to offer online learning

The university plans to teach online as South Africa’s lockdown continues, and is offering zero-rated data for its teaching sites, as well as computing devices for students

Habib leaves with no regrets about the decisions he made at Wits

The vice-chancellor announced he will be heading to SOAS next year
Advertising

Subscribers only

SAA bailout raises more questions

As the government continues to grapple with the troubles facing the airline, it would do well to keep on eye on the impending Denel implosion

ANC’s rogue deployees revealed

Despite 6 300 ANC cadres working in government, the party’s integrity committee has done little to deal with its accused members

More top stories

Fake trafficking news targets migrants

Exaggerated reports on social media of human trafficking syndicates snatching people in broad daylight legitimate xenophobia while deflecting from the real problems in society

It’s not a ‘second wave’: Covid resurges because safety measures...

A simple model shows how complacency in South Africa will cause the number of infections to go on an upward trend again

Unisa shortlists two candidates for the vice-chancellor job

The outgoing vice-chancellor’s term has been extended to April to allow for a smooth hand-over

How US foreign policy under Donald Trump has affected Africa

Lesotho has been used as a microcosm in this article to reflect how the foreign policy has affected Africa
Advertising

press releases

Loading latest Press Releases…

The best local and international journalism

handpicked and in your inbox every weekday