19 February 2016

South Africa: 20 Witsies Have Been Detained for "Flouting an Interdict"

A group of 20 Wits #FeesMustFall activists have been arrested and taken to the Hillbrow Police Station on charges of contempt of court after allegedly contravening the court order barring them from "protesting on campus, disrupting registration or intimidating other students".

Sergeant Mduduzi Zondo of the Hillbrow Police Station confirmed to The Daily Vox that the students had been detained and would be charged later today. Another police officer said the students are alleged to have intimidated other students on campus.

Protesters have been told to organise bail, the amount of which is, as yet, unconfirmed.

Writer Panashe Chigumanzi is among those arrested.

Seven of us are in the van going to Hillbrow pic.twitter.com/k8UM9xSZ7p

- Panashe Chigumadzi (@panashechig) February 19, 2016

We were sitting outside Empire gate, talking, sharing some food when police told us to get into the van.They refused to tell us why @WitsFMF

-- Panashe Chigumadzi (@panashechig) February 19, 2016

The arrests came after Wits sent a series of emails to students and staff on Friday morning clarifying the security situation and giving updates on the events, after protesters had attempted to reoccupy Senate House on Thursday evening.

A small group of about 15 individuals, attempted to unlawfully occupy the Concourse of Senate House again yesterday afternoon, in direct violation of the interim court order. The students were supported by a few academics. The individuals were repeatedly asked to leave but refused to do so, some even claiming that they were waiting to be arrested. Additional security has been deployed across campuses, a case has been opened and the public order police were called in. The group were escorted out of the building last night. Some members of the group broke windows in the Great Hall foyer as they were leaving," they said in a statement. "As they left Central Block, the group dispersed on the Braamfontein Campus and some of them then attempted to set alight a foam mattress at the back of the Wartenweiler Library. They entered the building through the back door of the 24 hour reading room. The fire was extinguished and the building was immediately evacuated. No one was hurt and nothing was destroyed.

At 7am, the Senior Executive Team had sent an email to all staff stating that despite these events, Wits would operate as normal. "The University will remain open as usual today and all academics, professional, administrative and support staff are required to report to work as planned."

By late morning however, the executive sent out another email confirming that despite disruptions, classes would continue and extra security would be brought onto campus. "It has come to our attention that a group of students are threatening to shut down the Wits campus today. We would like to assure you that the University continues to operate as usual and that the academic programme goes ahead as planned. We have had no disruptions to the academic programme since the start of this semester and we are determined to keep it this way. Additional security has been brought onto all campuses and the Public Order Police Services are on standby, should they be required."

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