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1 December 2015
Condemning today's attacks

Condemning today's attacks

Dear Campus Community

I herewith confirm what we have already communicated via social media, namely that exams are cancelled for the rest of the week. As previously communicated, all of the modules to be written during this week are also scheduled to be written in the week of 1 December 2015 and we will be communicating the detail of the exams again.

Today’s events were once again very unfortunate and sad. 

Last week we took the decision to act very firmly in dealing with any disruptions of examinations, but the implementation of such a decision was heavily dependent on the required support from the Police, who is responsible for the enforcement of law and order. 

We are led to believe that today’s actions were seemingly in response to correspondence from the Chair of Council indicating that the requested Special Council meeting, to deal with UWC’s funding of historic debt, is not feasible right now. I wish to categorically refute, as patently untrue, any claims that the current round of violence has been sparked by my reluctance to meet with the protesting students.

As communicated earlier today, there was ongoing mobilisation of students around the residences and, as part of the mobilisation, a section of the Ruth First residence was set alight. UWC’s fire and medical officer, Brandon Clark, responded to the fire-alarms set off by the fire and, upon his arrival at the residence, he was attacked and badly assaulted by the protestors and had to be rushed to hospital for medical attention. The Police arrested 5 students in connection with the assault. In addition, a female safety officer, Nicky Grobler, was assaulted and threatened at knife-point and a security officer was held hostage.

Around noon a group of protesting students entered the Main Hall and emptied fire distinguishers in the venue. Fortunately there were no exams taking place in the Main Hall at that time.  This was followed by widespread damage across campus with windows and doors broken in buildings, including the A and B block, Life Sciences, School of Public Health, Economic and Management Sciences and Social Sciences. The Police fired stun grenades and any reports of live ammunition being used by the Police, are not correct. We also have visual confirmation of students setting off large fire crackers to add to the confusion.

The students then retreated to the residences and continued with indiscriminate violence and attacking of security. They also started various fires between the residences and set fire to the Residence Life (ResLife) and the Residence Administration buildings.  The situation escalated and the Police then brought in reinforcements. Protesting students continued to provoke the Police, vandalised Kovacs Residence property, looted the Kovacs tuck shop and broke down large parts of the University fence. Initially the Police did not react to the provocation, however, late afternoon they started to arrest students. The Police were armed with stun grenades, teargas and rubber bullets and we have been informed that the Police were shot at with live ammunition.

The ferociousness of the attacks today and the disregard for the rights of others is absolutely shocking and is condemned in the strongest possible terms. We are horrified that the protestors could act in this way. In this crisis situation we have taken all the required decisions, but the full implementation thereof depends on the Police and the legal processes that follow.  Given the current context, we want to use the next two days to see if we can bring stability to the campus.

In consultation with the deans and academic staff we are currently looking into various options to ensure that we are able to conclude the academic year.  We will communicate further details pertaining to exams tomorrow, Thursday afternoon. Whilst our desire is firmly focussed on trying to finalise the academic year, the events of today (Wednesday, 11 November 2015) serve as a caution not to endanger the lives of staff and students in pursuit of this intent.

The nature of these incidents clearly indicate that this cannot be a UWC-specific problem, but it is in fact an issue of national concern since there are significant implications for the future of higher education in particular, and for our society in general.

As we, as a campus community, struggle to come to terms with what has happened and the manner in which it has unfolded, it is important for us to rally behind the shared commitment to investing in the future of our society through education.  

Yours sincerely

Prof Tyrone Pretorius

Rector and Vice-Chancellor