University of the Witwatersrand vice-chancellor Adam Habib has denied receiving any pressure from Higher Education Minister Blade Nzimande or his officials about closing down the institution.
“No, I haven’t been instructed by the minister. They recognise that this decision is to be made by the council,” Habib told reporters on Friday morning, shortly after announcing that the highly anticipated general assembly expected on campus, had been postponed.
He said the last time he had seen Nzimande was at the higher education summit earlier in the week and that the two had merely exchanged a “Howzit bru” shortly before Habib left the meeting.
The only other time Habib had interacted with department officials was during meetings, in an attempt to find solutions to the students’ call for free higher education.
“Yes, we have had conversations, yes we explored multiple options,” Habib said.
But he reiterated that the department did not play a role in deciding whether Wits closed its operations or not.
Free higher education
The university’s management announced, just before 9am, that it had decided to postpone the highly anticipated general assembly after it failed to reach consensus on three factors.
This was after all affected stakeholders had stayed up until the early hours of the morning discussing, negotiating and preparing for the assembly.
Reports surfaced shortly after the announcement that the university was under heavy pressure from Nzimande to shut down, based on intelligence Wits had received from the department.
Habib has maintained that the reason for the postponement was based on the parties failing to agree to the resumption of lectures on Monday, the format of the general assembly and the call by students that Wits and all other institutions be shut down until government agreed to free higher education.
Habib said he believed that the majority of the student body wanted to return to class, but that there was a “small group” of students who were not being pragmatic.
“They have a noble cause, but they need to practice give and take. They should not sacrifice the 2016 academic year just for the cause,” he said.
“I believe what we need to do is try and resolve the challenge. Think through short and medium plans [because] you cannot get everything immediately.
“Unfortunately, we are not getting all sides singing from the same hymn sheet,” Habib said. – News24