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Wits Law Students’ Coronavirus Argument Comes Under Fire In Court


The Johannesburg high court will pass judgment on Thursday in an application by two University of the Witwatersrand law students who want to stay on campus to self-quarantine.

Their application followed a decision on Monday by Wits to go on early recess and evacuate students. The decision was taken after one student tested positive for Covid-19.

The university then isolated 350 students, who may have had contact with the infected student, for testing.

Lerato Moela and fellow student Matsobane Shaun Matlhwana initially asked the court for the institution to devise mechanisms to curb the spread of the virus, including placing all Wits students in quarantine.

They were concerned that if students evacuated campus, they may pose a risk to their communities as not all of them had been tested.

But the application was revised later on Wednesday during an argument before judge Sharise Weiner. They sought an order enabling them to be placed in self-isolation on campus.

Moela, who argued on behalf of Matlhwana and himself, faced stern questioning from Weiner, who said the relief they sought was incompetent for a number of reasons.

One was that the students listed Wits vice-chancellor Adam Habib and dean of students Jerome September as respondents, and not the Wits executive committee, which took the decision.

Counsel for Habib and September, Ian Green, said 1,600-1,700 out of 6,500 students who stayed in residence had already left by Tuesday evening. He said about 250 to 300 students were leaving every hour.

Green said the reason that the 350 students were placed in self-quarantine was because they had contact with the student who contracted Covid-19.

He said the need for self-isolation “does not arise for everybody,” explaining that it was required for primary contacts who had been in close contact with a person who has contracted the virus.

He said those with secondary contact — who have had contact with the primary contact — did not need to self-isolate.

Green said there were no facts before the court indicating that Moela and Matlhwana met the requirements for self-quarantine. “The applicants are not special; they are in this maelstrom like the rest of us,” he said.

Moela said if the court found against them, it should not award costs against them. “We are students, unemployed and we were trying to assert our constitutional rights.”

Weiner told Moela that she thought he would be a good lawyer.

The court reserved judgment.

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