Wits postpones general assembly after talks with protesters fail

 Fees Must Fall protesters outside the Great Hall at the University of Witwatersrand. Picture: Leon Sadiki
Fees Must Fall protesters outside the Great Hall at the University of Witwatersrand. Picture: Leon Sadiki

The University of Witwatersrand has postponed its general assembly because talks with student protesters – which went on till 3.30am this morning – could not reach a consensus.

Scheduled for today, the assembly was to be held at the Library Lawns Braamfontein Campus East, with the theme “The principle of higher education and how the Wits community approaches it”.

This was only the 11th general assembly ever held at the institution since 1959. It was to be chaired by retired deputy judge president Dikgang Moseneke, in his capacity as the university’s chancellor.

The only time general assemblies were called was when there were issues of national importance which Wits wanted to stamp its position on, with the hopes of helping to address and assist the country.

“There’s specially selected areas of national concern and, in those times, we convene as a collective university,” the university’s vice-chancellor Adam Habib explained yesterday.

Habib said it was not a debating platform, but a very formal one, preceded by negotiations which were taking place during the week.

He had hoped that all members of the Wits community would arrive at a consensual position which could be pronounced to the country and the world.

“We had reached consensus with all university constituencies, including council, senate, convocation, labour and staff, but not with the protesting students. Despite all our attempts and the energetic engagement of former black student society and student representative council leaders, the mediation process with the protesting students was unsuccessful,” said a statement released by Wits today.

One of the protesters demands was that Wits and all other universities should be shut down until the government agrees to free education.

The decision to hold a general assembly was made on Tuesday, following about three weeks of protests by students across the country calling for free quality higher education.

The university had suspended its academic programme this week in an attempt to “dedicate all our resources towards building a consensus within the university community in order to be able to resume classes on Monday”. – Additional reporting by News24

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