'We are going to fight,' Mcebo Dlamini tells Wits protesters as tensions flare

05 February 2019 - 18:42 By NONKULULEKO NJILO
Tensions mounted at Wits University in Johannesburg on Tuesday amid ongoing protests over registration and accommodation.
Tensions mounted at Wits University in Johannesburg on Tuesday amid ongoing protests over registration and accommodation.
Image: Sebabatso Mosamo/Sunday Times

As disruptions at Wits University entered a second day on Tuesday, scores of private security personnel manned entrances to the university.  

A TimesLIVE reporter on the scene counted at least 13 positioned at one entrance.

Students gathered at Solomon Mahlangu House to prepare for a hunger strike. They confronted the security guards, who retaliated with violence.    

“We had come here today for a peaceful protest that said to students, we are going to sit here, occupy with our blankets [and] books, and study. [We] came here unarmed, but [management] brought us bouncers,” said Wits SRC president Sisanda Aluta Mbolekwa. 

Security guards were seen pushing, shouting and forcefully removing students from restricted areas.

“I was home seeing videos of our people being brutalised. We fought in this space for three years to achieve what we have today. We are going to fight. No student is going to go home without registering,” said student activist Mcebo Dlamini.

Dlamini is still embroiled in his own legal dispute surrounding student protests at the university in 2016, when he was caught on camera clashing with police while wearing an official police helmet and carrying a police shield.  

Dlamini's trial is set to start on April 9 2019. He appeared undeterred by the looming court action against him, telling students that they should be prepared to fight. 

The protest over historic debts - which hindered students from registering, as well as applying for funding and accommodation - saw a number of classes and departments being disrupted.    

Mbolekwa said she was baffled by how the institution said it was not able to provide accommodation, yet it had hired private security that cost over R2m.   

The university’s spokesperson Buhle Zuma, however, said there were no disruptions to academic activities. Zuma did not respond to the video footage in which security personnel were seen shoving students, but warned that students who were caught on video disrupting classes may face suspensions.

“The university is currently identifying those students who disrupted classes yesterday through video footage and statements. These students will be held to account, in line with the university’s policies, procedures and rules, which may include suspensions,” said Zuma in a statement.

Meanwhile, the dean of students affairs, Jerome September, said he was committed to assisting the students. “I am here on the ground listening and talking to you so we can get a better sense of the new answers in all of your cases, so we remain committed and I will do the best I can to assist you,” he said. 

The protesting students vowed to continue until their demands are met. 

“With our voices trembling, with tears in our eyes, we are going to fight this system,” said Mbolekwa.