Wits University vice-chancellor Adam Habib said the fees protest slogan “no free education, no education” could destroy a generation the same way the “no education before liberation” one did in the 1980s.
Habib, who was out of the country when a protest turned chaotic at the Wits main campus yesterday, took to Twitter this morning to express his shock over violence on campus as well as condemning the disruption of academic activities.
His concerns were mainly around the consequences of violent protests and academic time lost during protests.
“I worry about ‘no free education, no education’. [It] reminds me of the ’80s slogan ‘no education before liberation’ which destroyed a generation,” Habib tweeted.
He strongly condemned the violence that was often synonymous with some of the #FeesMustFall protests, which have left several campuses with combined costs of more than R400 million in damaged property.
“I also worry about the easy resort to violence. If we do not arrest this, this practice will consolidate and eventually destroy us all,” Habib said.
“There is a need for responsible behaviour lest we destroy our futures. Think of future generations if our universities are destroyed.”
After Higher Education Minister Blade Nzimande announced on Monday that institutions of higher learning would decide on their fee hikes for the 2017 academic year, which would be no more than 8%, Wits students vowed to shut down the university. They demanded no fee increment and free education.
Habib was in New York attending the United Nations launch of the HeforShe Campaign – an initiative aimed at promoting gender equality – when Nzimande made the fees announcement.
His tweets followed an eventful day at Wits. Protesting students clashed violently with private security officers. The two groups hurled stones at each other, leaving scores of people injured.
Habib also spoke on what he said was the “breakdown in the discipline of the private security, [which] must be condemned and investigated”.
He said, however, the “intimidation and violence of some student protesters must also be criticised. Too many students and staff have been threatened”.
At least 31 students were arrested in a clash with the police earlier yesterday but were released on warning.
Meanwhile, Wits students gathered on campus, singing. The mood was one of relative calmness following the chaos of yesterday. A mass meeting to decide on the way forward was set to be held today.
The university management decided to suspend academic activities for the rest of this week. Students will remain on campus and only residence and dining-hall staff were expected to report for duty.