University of the Witwatersrand vice-chancellor Professor Adam Habib has shared a “heart-breaking” plea for help from a student who is too afraid to stand up to protesters but is desperate to study.
The university has suspended its academic programme. Students remain in residence while protestors demanding free tertiary education clash with police and security guards.
“That’s not a situation we can continue with. This is a university. We are meant to be doing teaching and we are meant to be doing research‚” Habib told the SABC’s Morning Live show on Monday.
While supporting calls to lower the cost of tuition and working towards free higher education‚ he said: “I don’t think it’s right to sacrifice the lives of all our students‚ to sacrifice the studies of those students at Wits University this year.”
To illustrate the point‚ he read out an email sent to him on Sunday evening by a student.
It read: “Good evening. This is my second year at Wits and the university lays out the bricks of the path to my dreams. I’m part of the silent majority in favour of returning to class. I know for a fact that there are many more of us but we fear to stand up against those protesting‚ scared of being threatened‚ bullied and deemed racist.
“Last year‚ I expressed my desire to return to class on Facebook … and I had to remove the post as the result of negative comments.
“Let me tell you what I feel. I am angry. Our university holds so much for me‚ mostly a promising future. True it gives me many sleepless nights‚ as I worry about marks and due assignments. But at the end of the semester I breathe a sigh and watch documentaries and read articles.
“While studying psychology‚ I listened intently and picture myself one day‚ seated as a psychologist in front of someone that needs their world brightened.”
The email ends with the student making a plea: “Come with answers please. Forgive those who hate. Help us find a solution. Help me to study.”
“It’s these young students whose futures must not be sacrificed‚” said Habib.
He warned that if the protests continued the university would have to close completely. The consequences would be dire‚ he said‚ recalling a slogan used during the liberation struggle: “No education before liberation.”
“It destroyed a generation‚” he said. “Now we have a group of people who are saying‚ ‘free education‚ no education at all’. It could destroy another generation and I think that we need people to understand that.”
Asked what the future held for higher education in South Africa‚ he said: “I think the future is dangerous.”