Cape Town - Higher Education and Training Minister Blade Nzimande on Tuesday called on both the University of the Witwatersrand (Wits) and the police to conduct a full probe into the death of one of the institution's workers during protests last week.
Wits announced on Monday that the worker was rushed to hospital last week after a protesting students released a fire extinguisher. The worker died after being discharged from hospital.
“We are shocked by the conduct of the university for its failure to report such an incident, which is alleged to have occurred last week on its premises,” Nzimande said in a statement. “It is clear from the report that this particular death occurred as a result of the actions of protesting students who are reported to have released a fire extinguisher that affected this employee who later died.
“The university should have reported this matter immediately so that a proper investigation can take place.”
Nzimande said he had directed the university to conduct a formal investigation and report back to him.
The minister said the incident was proof that there was a small minority of student holding universities to random and intimidating fellow students. “We reiterate this call for all students to desist from these damaging protests and return to class so that the academic programme can resume,” said Nzimande.
“I am of the firm view that these elements have demonstrated no regard for the sanctity of all human life when protests become violent. Ours is to work tirelessly to prevent any further loss of life as a result of these violent protests. We call on all protesters to restrain themselves from any activity which can lead to further loss of life.”
Tension remained high at Wits University's main campus on Tuesday as protesting students prepared to hand over a memorandum of demands to Vice-Chancellor, Professor Adam Habib. However, Habib was thought to not be at the campus but attending a meeting with Nzimande, the National Board of Convocations and University Alumni in Pretoria.
According to one of #FeesMustFall
leaders at Wits, Busisiwe Seabe of the Economic Freedom Fighters Student Command, they were still sorting out the logistics of who would receive the memorandum of demands, but were insisting on only handing over the memorandum to Habib.
Wits had earlier announced that it would hold a referendum next Monday for students to decide whether to resume the academic calendar or suspend activities for the rest of the year
“We don't trust the voting process,” said Seabe on the issue of the referendum.
She also said that the university should rather host a student assembly at the Great Hall on Thursday where students and parents would be able to comment.