Coronavirus News Africa

Coronavirus: Two law students take Wits to court over residence evacuations

Two University of Witwaterstrand students have turned to the courts to interdict the university from evacuating residences because of the coronavirus, alleging that students will be going home without knowing their infection status, and may then infect others. 

This comes after it was announced on Sunday that a Wits medical student had tested positive for the virus even though the student did not display any symptoms. 

Lerato Moela and Matsobane Shaun Matlhwana launched an urgent application in the Gauteng High Court in Johannesburg on Tuesday seeking an order that will prevent the university from evacuating the students within 72 hours.

Wits University will be opposing the application lodged by the two law students. It is yet to file opposing papers. 

Moela and Matlhwana want the university to refrain from evacuating students without first making it clear whether students have been tested for the coronavirus and are safe to go home. 

They have also asked the court to extend the evacuation notice until a mechanism is devised to limit the rapid spread of the virus.

Moela and Matlhwana stay at one of the university’s residences.

‘No precautionary measures’

The two students have cited outgoing vice-chancellor Adam Habib and Dean of Students Jerome September as the first and second respondents respectively.

They pointed out that Wits instructed students to leave the university’s residences within the next 72 hours without any precautionary measures.

A founding affidavit says: “There is uncertainty as to whether or not the students have contracted the virus through the possible social and classroom interactions with the affected students.

“Understanding the reluctance of the court in hearing matters on an urgent basis, I and the second applicant sent a correspondence demanding the university to extend the 72 hours evacuation time frame and put measures in place to minimise the spread of the virus.”

“It means that the students are likely to start leaving their residences anytime as of 17 March. If this application is not heard as a matter of urgency, the students would go to their respective societies without knowing their statuses and could possibly spread the virus.

“…it would be very difficult to redress this undesirable social consequence if this matter is not heard as one of urgency.


“… the respondents were aware of this as of 6 March when they indicated the severity of the coronavirus and the potential threat to human life. The respondents are well aware of all these facts contained herein and would not be prejudiced by the circumscribed forms of service.

“This matter is of public importance and it would be necessary for this court to exercise its discretion in the interest of justice,” said the applicants in papers before court.

The hearing is expected to continue on Wednesday, and Wits will be opposing the application. 

Wits’ communication’s officer, Buhle Zuma, said the students initiated their action without knowing the details and added that their case was based on false information.

“The university will request that they carry the costs of this frivolous action. This is an irresponsible, reckless act which obstructs the fight against Covid-19 and is in contravention of the state’s strategy and protocol to address the pandemic.

“The president has said that we need to look beyond this kind of selfishness and political attention-seeking. Everyone should be part of the collective solution not the problem.

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