The text of another statement I wrote when I was a Media Officer for the Anti-Privatisation Forum (APF). Issued for the anti-privatisation/ anti-outsourcing struggle at the University of the Witwatersrand (Wits) ongoing the time. It was labelled a “communiqué” as a play on Wits’ practice at the time of calling its official statements “communiqués.
Anti-privatisation Forum: Communiqué number 2
To all academics, students and workers
Bundy’s iron fist versus democracy and freedom of expression
Rather than seek to resolve the ongoing controversy over the Wits 2001 privatisation plan through rational dialogue and genuine democratic decision-making, it seems that Colin Bundy, Vice-Chancellor and Principal of the University of the Witwatersrand, clearly prefers the iron fist.
At the start of August, Bundy’s administration served notice that it will be applying for interdicts against the main workers union on campus, the National Union of Health Education and Allied Workers Union, NEHAWU, as well as the main organisations representing students. Curiously this was not mentioned in one of Bundy’s public “communiqués” but undertaken quietly and stealthily.
These include two elected and duly constituted university structures representing student interests – the Student Representative Council (SRC) for undergraduate students and the Postgraduate Association for postgraduate students- as well as the popular South African Students’ Congress, SASCO. A further fourteen individuals active in these different organisations will also be interdicted.
The interdicts – if secured through the courts- will ban a range of actions. The main ones affected are “noisy” protests, occupations, and any form of disruption of “normal” University activities.
The effect of this drastic and uncalled-for action will be to declare a State of Emergency on campus. Normal protest activities, protected by the Constitution, will be shut down with the use of riot police.
Legitimate representative structures such as unions and student councils will operate in a climate of intimidation and fear. Protest action against legitimate concerns such as Wits’ retrenchment of 620 workers in June, rising student fees, worsening food in the residences, job cuts amongst academics will be muzzled.
Innocent protestors will be jailed with rapists and murderers for “contempt of court” if they dare to exercise their right to freedom of expression and engage in activities that do not have Bundy’s approval.
Is this Bundy’s idea of free speech and academic freedom? To create a situation in which people fear to speak out and in which anyone who goes to far is attacked by police and jailed? Does Bundy want to take the campus back to the days of 1993 and 1994 when the campus almost tore itself apart as riot fired teargas on campus and police arrested hundreds of students, where union and student activists faced jail sentences for occupying an administration office?
All that NEHAWU, SRC, PGA and SASCO wanted was open dialogue over the Wits 2001 restructuring process, and a real say over what decisions were made. These organisations- the Wits Crisis Committee, part of the Anti-Privatisation Forum – wanted to defend workers’ jobs, wanted to defend students’ conditions, wanted to prevent departments from being closed down, wanted to stop privatisation, wanted be heard.
The Wits Crisis Committee was ignored again and again.
And now history repeats itself.
Bundy’s response to people’s legitimate concerns has not been to reopen negotiations and discussions. He has chosen instead to o empower himself to call in riot police – to use the State- to enforce the University’s internal Code of Conduct against the majority of the University community, viz., academics, workers and students.
Rather than seek to understand what underlay the series of peaceful protest actions that has take place throughout this year, in other words, Bundy has grossly overreacted in a manner can only serve to polarise and radically destabilise normal campus life.
The firing of tear gas rounds may serve to drown out legitimate concerns, may serve to silence academic freedom for a while, but it can never solve the problem.
The winds of democracy, it seems, are blowing everywhere in Africa- from Swaziland to Zimbabwe to Nigeria. But not at the University of the Witwatersrand.