Incoming Wits SRC president: We are tired of creating pop stars out of protests
The incoming student president at the University of Witswatersrand has announced that there will be a mass meeting before the new student representative council (SRC) decides on a course of action for fees protests.
It took incoming SRC president Oreditetse Masebe more than an hour to finally begin the press briefing he had promised late on Monday afternoon. It was scheduled to start at 4pm, but when students from the Progressive Youth Alliance (PYA) interrupted the meeting, factional battles begun to erupt.
Masebe had earlier told the Mail & Guardian the SRC-elect would hold a press conference, but the ANC-aligned PYA members of SRC said they were not consulted about the briefing. The new SRC will be led by Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) students for the first time in the university’s history. On Monday, there was arguing, some pushing, and lots of shouting between the two groups.
After an hour, Masebe and his fellow EFFSC members decided to disengage. In the course of his briefing, he announced that he would not order a shutdown, but after he takes over office on Wednesday, he will call for a mass meeting.
“We are tired of creating pop stars out of protests,” he said.
Although the SRC has not yet had its first sitting, Masebe said that EFF delegates would prioritise:
1. Affordable and healthy accommodation for students
2. Student mental health and academic support
3. Student safety on campus
Masebe said he had already informed the Dean of Students at the university of his request for a mass meeting and was now awaiting a reply.
Political divisions fracture movement
Throughout Monday, resident students at Wits had been protesting around residences to challenge the minimum 10% increase the university has proposed for accommodation. The resident students were waiting to have a meeting with the Dean of Students in the same venue where the EFFSC students were holding their briefing.
“They are trying to highjack our protest,” one student accused. “Where were they the whole day?”
The PYA students had joined the earlier protest. The students had attempted to occupy Solomon Mahlangu House, where VC Adam Habib has his office, but they were blocked by private security.
Masebe denounced claims that EFF students were reluctant to protest, saying that the current SRC - which is PYA-led - could initiate a shutdown if they wanted.
“There must be no confusion that EFF students are against a shutdown,” Masebe said.
“But you are,” other students shouted back.
The president-elect was heckled throughout his briefing by students from within the PYA. The divisions are a continuation from the 2016 #FeesMustFall Wits protests, where PYA and EFF students struggled to come to agreement and have hampered unified protests on campus.
No surprise on fees report
Masebe said that he was unsurprised that the findings of the Fees Commission - which were revealed in City Press after they were leaked to the newspaper - were not supportive of free education for all.
He began his statement on the report by saying it was leaked an therefore “not verified”, but continued to say he expected that the government would not deliver free education.
President Jacob Zuma said over the weekend that the report will be finalised this and will be released “immediately” after. But Masebe doesn’t hold much hope that the report will satisfy the student protest demand of free education for all.
“We continue to believe in free decolonised education,” Masebe said.
He rejected claims that EFF leader Julius Malema was instructing EFF students on protests, saying the EFFSC is “autonomous”.
Masebe will officially be SRC president on Wednesday when he is inaugurated. The Wits SRC executive will comprise of EFF students, while PYA will have just three seats on the SRC out of 15. The EFF holds 12 seats after this year’s election.