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Court dismisses Wits students’ urgent application over closure of residences

The institution’s lawyers filed opposing papers on Wednesday after two law students turned to the High Court to interdict the university’s decision to vacate students from residences by Friday.

FILE: The University of the Witwatersrand (Wits). Picture: Sethembiso Zulu/EWN

JOHANNESBURG - The High Court in Johannesburg on Thursday dismissed the urgent application brought by two Wits University students to extend the period for the evacuation of residences.

The institution’s lawyers filed opposing papers on Wednesday after two law students, Lerato Moela and Matsobane Shaun Mathlwana, turned to the High Court to interdict the university’s decision to vacate students from residences by Friday.

According to a statement issued by Wits University’s senior executive team, the judge implored the applicants and all other students to comply with President Cyril Ramaphosa’s declaration of a national state of disaster to deal with the coronavirus pandemic and the directives of the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD).

“The judge recognised that the university is following the directives of these bodies,” the executive team said.

“We are pleased with the outcome of the court proceedings and we believe that the judgment is a vindication of decision-making informed by scientific evidence. It also allows institutions to act decisively and to work with government to manage and mitigate against this pandemic,” it added.

This came after 350 students were instructed to go into self-quarantine after a medical student tested positive for the novel coronavirus (COVID-19).

On Tuesday, Minister of Higher Education, Science and Technology Dr Blade Nzimande also announced that all tertiary institutions in the country would be closed until further notice in order to minimise COVID-19 infections.

WATCH: Graduation ceremonies cancelled and contact learning limited

Moela and Mathlwana alleged that students would be going home without knowing if they had contracted the disease and risked infecting others if they returned back to their communities.

Wits University said it was very disappointed with the applicants and others that tried to undermine the effective management of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Their behaviour is self-indulgent and reckless, and contrary to the advice of leading scientists in the country. Moreover, we are aware that this action was in part inspired by political machinations and we remain concerned that such conduct could undermine our country’s fight against the pandemic. It especially undermines the message of solidarity by our president to act as a collective in addressing COVID-19,” it said.

The institution said individuals should be held accountable and it was disappointed that the High Court did not award costs against the applicants, saying their actions were “simply unacceptable”.

Wits said it would continue to facilitate the evacuation of the residences by its students and to follow the social distancing policy. It also said the university’s experts and scientists were working directly with government to address the COVID-19 pandemic and contribute to the global search for a cure.

“We emphasise that while our recess has been brought forward and residences are closed, the senior executive team is putting plans in place to ensure that the academic programme resumes in a manner which is conducive to our collective needs as soon as is possible.”

WATCH: COVID-19 Situation Desk - 19 March 2020 AM

To track the latest developments around the coronavirus both in South Africa and abroad, click on this live status report from Strategix.