Wits thwarts attempt to torch law library

2016-05-29 12:22
Wits University (File, City Press)

Wits University (File, City Press)

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Johannesburg – The University of the Witwatersrand has brought in extra security for exams after what it believes was an attempt burn down its law library.

It was a close shave for the university, which said it regarded the burning of education infrastructure as being treasonous.

Two balaclava-wearing people carrying gas canisters were spotted on CCTV entering the building through an open window in the early hours of Saturday morning, Wits spokesperson, Shirona Patel, said in a statement.

Security was alerted and the gas cylinders were found and removed, but the culprits were not caught. The balaclavas also made it difficult to identify them.

"We believe that the intention of the suspects was to start a fire in the Law Library," said Patel.

"We condemn these criminal acts and call on the police to investigate swiftly and thoroughly so that the perpetrators can be brought to book as soon as possible," she said in a statement.

The extra security guards and police officers would stay on standby until exams are finished.

The university called on anyone with information to report it to Campus Control on 011 717 4444 or 011 717 6666.

Johannesburg police spokesperson, Captain Tsekiso Mofokeng, confirmed the incident and said police were investigating.


Earlier this week Wits said an attempt had been made by a group of about 50 to 80 workers to disrupt operations at its dining hall and the Matrix meeting area.

The university said it would use an interdict that it had already obtained to make sure exams and other activities were not disrupted.

It believed this was because the workers were not happy about some of the recommendations by an Insourcing Task Team (ITT) established last year.

Their complaints were about job categories and that retail workers in the Matrix now also want to be permanent employees of the university.

The ITT, headed by advocate and Economic Freedom Fighters chairperson, Dali Mpofu, included members of the Students Representative Council, workers and the Council of the University. It would meet again with the council, which has the final say, on June 10.

Stun grenades

Wits was not the only educational institution on tenterhooks as a massive student uprising late last year against fee increases and using contract labour, smoulders on.

This is despite the Department of Higher Education's commitment of around R6 billion to cover the cost of the fee increases and its promise to improve its financial aid scheme. Universities also vowed to find ways of getting out of their long-term labour hire contracts so employees could be employed directly and receive the same perks as other members of staff.

Last year police fired stun grenades when students managed to get into the parliamentary precinct and tried to storm the National Assembly during previous finance minister Nhlanhla Nene's medium-term budget speech.

This year the University of Johannesburg lost a R100 million 1 000-seater auditorium in what was believed to have been an arson attack, and on May 18, the University of Fort Hare obtained an interdict to stop protests during its centenary celebrations, which were accompanied by fires.


The vice chancellor of the University of Cape Town, Max Price, also had his office torched, as were paintings in halls of residence considered offensive relics from a colonial era by some.

The basic education sector has not escaped damage and disruption either. In the Vhembe area of Limpopo 103 schools were closed down and about 25 schools were torched or vandalised in attacks related to demarcation protests.

The department has started the delivery of 76 mobile classrooms and the absolute basics to get classroom teaching going again.

The news of the arson attempt at the Wits Law Library was met with scepticism by some, while others expressed concern.

Read more on:    wits university  |  johannesburg  |  crime  |  university protests

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