Wits defends actions around death of contract worker

2016-09-27 22:01
Wits students.

Wits students. (Tshidi Madia)

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Johannesburg - Higher Education and Training Minister Blade Nzimande's comments questioning the timing of the announcement by the University of the Witwatersrand on the death of one of its contract workers are disturbing, the institution said on Tuesday.

"The university had to follow due process and was obliged to wait on the report from Mr Celemusa Ntuli's employer and obtain permission from Mr Ntuli's family before releasing his name," it said in a statement, adding that it received permission to do so on Tuesday morning.

Earlier Nzimande reprimanded the institution for failing to alert him of the death.

"We are shocked by the conduct of the university and its failure to report such an incident," the minister said in a statement, stating that it was clear from the report of the death that it occurred as a direct result of the actions of protesting students.

The 39-year-old was cleaning at the Jubilee Hall of Residence last week on Tuesday when protesters entered and released fire extinguishers.

He fell ill shortly afterward and was attended to by the campus' health and wellness centre. Ntuli, who was treated for three days at the Milpark Hospital, died while being transported back to hospital after developing complications days after he was discharged.

Students have been protesting since September 19 following an announcement by Nzimande of study fee adjustments.

Nzimande said the death is what he had been cautioning against and that he was deeply concerned, adding that it served as further proof that there is a small minority determined to undermine the wishes of the majority.

He also called on the institution to conduct a formal investigation and to submit a report in order to establish what happened. Police should also be given the necessary space to conduct an investigation, he said.

Messages of condolences

Meanwhile government communications and the Democratic Alliance have joined Wits in extending condolences to the family and friends of the contract worker.

"This is a heart-breaking incident and it is absolutely intolerable that a worker who was serving students has lost their life in the name of social protest," said acting director general at government communications Donald Liphoko.

The GCIS also used the opportunity to ask students to refrain from violent protests and to seek peaceful ways to raise their grievances.

It also said government was making every effort to address the concerns of students and to stabilise their destructive and violent reaction.

The DA has also expressed a deep sadness over the incident and called on the police to investigate the cause of death.

"Should wrong-doing be found, the law must be allowed to take its course so that Mr Ntuli's family and loved ones can receive the closure they need," read a statement from the political party.

The opposition party also joined the chorus of those asking for students to protest peacefully and within the ambit of the law.

Read more on:    wits  |  blade nzimande  |  university protests  |  university fees

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