Wits vice-chancellor Professor Adam Habib has questioned the continued protest by students despite a meeting in which he said that their representatives admitted their demands could not be met immediately.
The university opened its doors again on Tuesday after it had closed last week amid violent protests and destruction of property. A poll taken by Wits last week indicated that nearly 80% of students wanted the university to re-open.
Habib warned late on Monday that there would be police and a full security contingent on all campuses and in all buildings.
“We understand that it is not ideal to attend classes with police at the doors of learning, but we are left with no choice. We appeal to the Wits community to work with us to try to save the 2016 academic year,” Habib said in a statement issued late on Monday.
News24 reported that the police arrested two Wits University students on Tuesday morning, including student leader Busiswe Seabe.
The two were taken into custody for allegedly contravening a court order obtained by the institution against students. The interdict stops large gatherings and singing on the campus.
Stun grenades were fired by police to disperse students outside the Great Hall earlier on Tuesday.
Habib questioned why students continued to protest when student representatives had admitted that there was no immediate solution to their demand for free tertiary education.
He told a local radio station that he had met with student representatives who agreed that it was impossible to meet their demands immediately. He then questioned why they continued to ‘paralyze’ institutions.
Habib said that should the university fail to ‘get this right’, the faculty would have no choice but to close the university, which will compromise the 2016 academic programme and the lives of all 37,000 students.
“It means that all students will have to move out of residences before the end of the week. It means that there will be fewer teachers, doctors, lawyers and accountants in the workplace.
“It means that students on financial aid, scholarships and bursaries may lose their funding. It means that Wits will not be able to enrol first year students in January – we have 75,000 applications for 2017 already,” he said.
President Jacob Zuma said on Monday that the government is doing everything possible to assist students from poor households to obtain post-school education since 1994.
The government has committed to pay the fee increases for next year on behalf of all poor, working class and “missing middle” families – those with a household income of up to R600,000 per annum.
While universities are the only legal authorities for determining fees, the government has also recommended that fee adjustments for the 2017 academic year should not be above 8%.
“The zero percent fee increase that was implemented for this year was a decision made through listening, and through talking,” the president said.
He stressed that the commission on education fees should be allowed to finish its work so that it can help to find lasting solutions. The fees commission for higher education is expected to conclude its work in 2017.