Suspension of Students and Society
21 August 2015
STATEMENT FROM THE EXCO OF THE COUNCIL OF THE UNIVERSITY OF THE WITWATERSRAND ON THE SUSPENSION OF STUDENTS AND A STUDENT SOCIETY FOLLOWING THE DISRUPTION OF AN SRC ELECTION DEBATE HELD EARLIER THIS WEEK
The Exco of the Council of Wits University was dismayed to hear that the SRC Election Debate on Tuesday, 18 August 2015 was disrupted and marred by physical altercations, which resulted in the debate being called off. This goes against everything that Wits stands for. The University has always said that it will respect freedom of expression and create a space in which this right is safeguarded, in line with the provisions of our Constitution. This right was violated this week.
On the basis of concerns raised by many students and staff, the Vice-Chancellor immediately called a meeting with all the candidates and informed them of the following:
1. The election process would continue but should any group and/or individual violate the electoral process, the Vice-Chancellor would exercise his authority, including the right to suspend that group or individual from the elections.
2. All video footage of the incident was being reviewed and should individuals be identified as having engaged in physical altercations, they would be investigated with a view to implementing disciplinary procedures where appropriate.
3. If there was reason to believe that individuals constituted a threat to the safety of others, the Vice-Chancellor would consider an immediate suspension of those individuals from the University.
The Vice-Chancellor has the duty to ensure that the University community enjoys a safe and secure environment. He is authorised to implement measures to achieve this objective, including the interim suspension of any individual from the precincts or activities of the University, provided that this is in the best interests of the University and is justified on good grounds. Such suspension does not mean that that individual is in fact guilty of misconduct. Such a finding can only be made after the conclusion of a disciplinary process.
After the Vice-Chancellor had viewed the video footage of the incident and consulted the Electoral Officer and her colleagues, he concluded that there seemed to be reasonable grounds for believing that the disruption of the debate was orchestrated by members of the EFF Society at Wits. All election candidates had committed themselves to a code of conduct and any disruption of the debate therefore constitutes a breach of this code of conduct.
Members of the Wits EFF claim that the disruption of the debate took place because some of their members were facing disciplinary proceedings. It is true that they are facing disciplinary proceedings for incidents that took place prior to the elections, but so are other students. The University’s rules apply equally to all students and disciplinary proceedings continue whether or not the individual concerned is standing for elections.
These disciplinary procedures will therefore run their course. As students often emphasise in the vein of Fanon, the University should not be in the business of creating political elites for whom the rules do not apply.
The following decisions have been taken:
1. Where there are reasonable grounds for believing that election candidates have contravened the electoral code of conduct, these candidates have been suspended, with the consequence that they are disqualified from standing for these SRC elections.
2. Where there is evidence that students were involved in violence and/or threats of violence, these students have been suspended. None of these students expressed any remorse for their roles and there is therefore no indication that in future they will not conduct themselves in a way that polarises the environment and leads to violence, compromising the safety of staff and students at Wits. The consequence of this suspension is that these students have been immediately excluded from all University precincts and activities.
3. In addition to these investigations, there will be investigations into possible contraventions of, among other things, the electoral code of conduct and the general code of conduct for students by individuals who may not have been dealt with under the measures referred to above.
4. All of the above mentioned occurrences will be investigated and there is a possibility that disciplinary proceedings will arise out of these investigations. Where disciplinary proceedings are implemented, these will be concluded by the end of September.
The Vice-Chancellor is mindful of the importance of student governance and is therefore allowing the elections to continue with increased security.
The actions on 18 August 2015 created an atmosphere that was not conducive to free and fair elections, and which culminated in physical altercations. Conduct of this nature contravenes the electoral code of conduct to which the candidates committed themselves and also the general code of conduct for all students at the University. In light of the evidence, the majority of the Council Exco, excluding the SRC, has concluded that it is in the best interests of the University that the recognition of the Wits EFF as a society at the University be withdrawn.
We would welcome the EFF reapplying to establish itself as a duly recognised Wits club and society, as and when it is willing to acknowledge its role in preventing a free and fair election environment, be held accountable for this, and continue to operate within the rules and procedures of the University. This application must be made through the SRC to the Council and must be ultimately approved by the Council.
We are fully aware that some individuals and parties will be disgruntled by these decisions, but it is our responsibility to prioritise the safety of Wits staff, students and visitors.
It is absolutely important that we realise that democracy comes with both rights and responsibilities, and we cannot demand our rights without taking on the responsibilities. Groups and individuals who are unhappy are welcome to protest. However, should these protests violate the rules of the University, the Vice-Chancellor will respond with the full authority of his office. Students who choose to join Wits come onto campus and commit themselves to abide by all of the University’s rules voluntarily.
We would like to reiterate that Wits is a free and safe space, and that we will not allow the academic project to be compromised. We look to you for your support in working with us to protect these rights.
We will keep you updated as this matter progresses.
Signed for and behalf of the Exco of Council, Wits University by
Deputy Chairperson of Council
University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg
21 August 2015
Issued by Wits, August 21 2015