Rhodes University will close and send its students home if ongoing fee protests hamper the resumption of normal activities this week, [warned] Rhodes vice-chancellor Dr Sizwe Mabizela.
While protesting students on social media considered whether or not to “call the VC’s bluff”, the university gave the assurance that the e-mail sent to students and staff [on 25 September 2016] was not a ruse.
“The closure of the university will have dire consequences for the town, for all university staff, and for students themselves who will not be able to complete the academic year.
“Think hard about your actions.”
The e-mail from the VC’s office said the university supported the call for a free quality higher education for the poor and Rhodes would work with other universities to lobby government for exactly this.
In line with the announcement made by Higher Education Minister Blade Nzimande, if a student’s family income was R600000 or less, they would have no fee increase in 2017 as the state would cover the increase. Nzimande said the fee increases for everyone else would be capped at 8%.
Mabizela yesterday warned continued instability would destroy the higher education system.
University campuses across the country were last week brought to a standstill by renewed fees protests after Nzimande’s announcement. Students are reiterating their original demand for a free higher education for all.
Some students at Rhodes also want the university to write off historical debt.
The protest brought the academic programme to a standstill last week and Rhodes administrative staff were eventually also forced to leave.
Mabizela’s latest e-mail warning of imminent closure has drawn a firm line in the sand. Students yesterday questioned on social media whether he would dare to do so if they continued to protest.
Wits University last week also warned that it would consider shutting down if it could not continue with its academic programme.
At Rhodes, a meeting of students to discuss this coming week’s programme of protest action was still under way late yesterday afternoon. The VC’s
e-mail dominated the discussion.
It was decided a statement would be released responding to the VC’s e-mail in due course.
The complete closure of the university, including its residences, would constitute a drastic move and would likely require the approval of the university’s council – which is the institution’s highest decision making body.
But, it seems likely council will support the move in the interest of the safety and security of staff, students and property.
Earlier this year, it expressed its full support for university management’s decision to apply for a high court interdict prohibiting protesting students from unlawful behaviour such as kidnapping and assault.
Rhodes University Council chairman Vuyo Kahla said at the time that while the council affirmed the constitutional right of students and staff to peaceful, legitimate and robust protest, it condemned all acts of violence that accompanied such protest.
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