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Fri Sep 30 03:34:34 SAST 2016

Wits on high alert after UCT protests, Habib slams burning of paintings

Jenni Evans | 17 February, 2016 12:28
Wits University vice-chancellor Adam Habib. File photo
Image by: Supplied

The University of Witwatersrand increased security on Wednesday after fiery protests at the University of Cape Town and the petrol bombing of the vice chancellor's office, Wits Vice Chancellor Adam Habib said.

Slamming the burning of art, a bus and a bakkie, Habib said there could never be an an excuse for such actions, irrespective of the complaint about symbols of white history and the pain they caused.

This was after a small group of students spray-painted the busts of General Jan Smuts and Maria Emmeline Barnard Fuller on Monday, and on Tuesday afternoon set paintings depicting white people alight.

The paintings were removed from the residences near a shack that the group had set up to protest lack of accommodation and claims that some were not allowed to register.

The university confirmed on Wednesday morning that UCT Vice Chancellor Max Price's office had been petrol bombed.

Eight people were arrested, seven of whom are UCT students, and eight students were also suspended, UCT said.

Those arrested were expected to appear in court on Wednesday and the university said on its website that it would obtain an interdict against the Rhodes Must Fall students.

Speaking on the sidelines of Parliament's open hearings on the Higher Education Amendment Bill, Habib implored students to not take this path, and rather talk about their issues.

"What is achieved by burning a bus or art? How do you advance transformation?"

If students had problems with the symbols, saying there were too many pictures and busts of white people, they should debate it, he sa.di

"Tomorrow, are we going to burn Marx's books because he was white and Jewish?" Habib asked.

He said Wits had already prepared a document on urgent transformation issues.

The Bill, on which Parliament's committee on education was taking submissions, plans to give the minister of education more power to intervene in transformation issues.

Habib told the committee that the events at Wits were "a real, real tragedy". He added that the Bill went too far into the terrain of the institutions' autonomy.

So far, 26 universities had undertaken massive transformation without intrusion in their autonomy. For example, 76% of students at Wits were black.

More discussion is needed to define what transformation is, for the sake of the Bill, he said.

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