/ 15 March 2023

Wits University agrees to mediation with student representatives

Wits Protest
File photo: The pilot project involves 39 public higher education institutions, including the University of Johannesburg and the University of the Western Cape. (Photo by Ihsaan Haffejee/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

Management at the University of the Witwatersrand has agreed to a mediation process with the student representative council (SRC) amid ongoing protests over fees and accommodation.

The university said the decision followed last week’s meetings with student leaders after they called a “ceasefire” in hostilities at the higher education institution. 

Wits students began protesting two weeks ago over the exclusion of financially strapped  students who have not been able to register for the new academic year because they owe the university money, or cannot secure accommodation at residences because they cannot afford the deposit.

Six students have been suspended by the university for damage to property and infringing on others’ right to learn and work.

The mediation process is a constructive way forward, Wits spokesperson Shirona Patel said.

“The office of the dean of student affairs will work with the SRC and management to arrange a convenient time and appropriate terms for such a process, as well as to engage a professional mediator in the coming days,” she added.

The SRC warned that if the university failed to meet it through the proposed mediation process, it would continue the “just protest”.

Last week, the university sought to correct what it called “misinformation” in some of the students’ demands, saying there were a number of concessions to assist students experiencing financial difficulties, such as allowing those owing R10 000 or less to register. The university said it has also administered R1.6 billion in financial aid, scholarships and bursaries that have helped more than 26 000 students.

The SRC has pleaded with the university to lift the suspension of student leaders.

“We, as the SRC, believe that this would be the first step in bandaging the wounds left by student activism and ensuring a peaceful continuance of the academic calendar with no further disruptions.”

In response, the university said: “Wits will never prevent peaceful protests. However, when students break the university’s rules, damage property and infringe on the rights of those who want to learn and work, the university has no choice but to act against these students. Several students have been suspended to date.”

As the university enters the fourth week of term, the academic programme and all university activities will continue, Patel stressed.