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No classes at Walter Sisulu University

Zimasa Mpemnyama
March01/ 2016

The Walter Sisulu University in East London has also been engaging in the nationwide university strikes for the insourcing of service staff and the lack of accommodation and funding for students. 

Classes at the Walter Sisulu University (WSU), in East London in the Eastern Cape, have not begun since the beginning of the academic year due to ongoing student and worker protests.

While the students are complaining of very limited accommodation and lack of NSFAS (National Student Financial Aid Scheme) funding, the service staff are calling for an end to outsourcing and the exploitative working environment they say characterises the system.

“Classes were due to begin on the 8th of February and that was the only day we attended classes.”

According to one of the student protesters and 2nd year Journalism student, Tebogo Gantsa, all of the campuses are currently shut down and “we have decided that we will embark on a three day stay away to give management an opportunity so that we can see if they’re going to implement the resolutions that they have taken with the SRC,” he said.

“Classes were due to begin on the 8th of February and that was the only day we attended classes. On that day there was a communique that said that the University will be shut down,” Gantsa says.

Gantsa told Wits Vuvuzela that only one concession had been made since the beginning of the strike action by students, “on the 17th of February … we said that for them [management] to resolve some issues the campus needs to be open but only for non-academic activities. So all the administration people were allowed to go back to work,” he said.

Some of the grievances from the students include the lack of accommodation, even for “deserving students who qualify” for it, the University’s unwillingness to help students find alternative private accommodation, and the exclusion from residence of students who, although they qualify for NSFAS, did not get funding because NSFAS has “insufficient funds”.

SERVICE STAFF DEMAND AN END TO OUTSOURCING

Echoing the voices of other student protesters across university campuses in the country, Gantsa insisted that students were never violent during protests and that they were rather intimidated and attacked by heavy handed campus security and the police. He also urged people to problematize the term ‘violence’. “Students here have been psychologically impacted by the presence of private security on our campuses. The security literally follows us everywhere,” he said.

“Close to 100 workers … signed a memorandum … demanding a minimum salary of R10 000 per month.”

Working in parallel with the student movement is the worker’s movement which includes service workers  employed by security, cleaning, catering and landscaping companies, all fighting to be insourced and to get employment benefits from the University. Close to 100 workers who get paid between R2400 and R3800 a month, signed a memorandum on January 28 that they sent to the University and their respective companies demanding a minimum salary of R10 000 per month and a change to insourcing.

The representative of the workers and an Art History lecturer at the university, Churchill Madikida says that none of the companies or the university have responded to the memorandum, instead, workers have been threatened with dismissal and others have been sent to disciplinary hearings.

One disciplinary hearing notice letter, which Wits Vuvuzela is in the possession of, cites the reasons for the hearings as “inciting other employees to commit an act or acts that are detrimental to the company; Intimidation of serious nature in that you force fellow employees to sign a petition” and “leaving and/or abandoning your post without authorization and/or a valid reason.”

According to Madikida, some of the employees have been denied their preferred representation at these hearings, “some of them cannot speak English properly meaning they won’t be able to represent themselves”, which puts them at a disadvantage.

The WSU was established in 2005 through a merger of the University of Transkei, Border Technikon and the Eastern Cape Technikon.

While they wait for some of the responses to their memorandums to come through, Gantsa went on to say that the struggles in historically black universities were not given as much media attention as those in other, historically white and elite institutions. In an article he wrote in support of the outsourced workers he says, “We must guard vigilantly against this unbundling and narrowing of our otherwise intertwined struggles. What needs to happen, as matter of urgency, is the creation of a link between both the students and workers struggles.”

Zimasa Mpemnyama

Zimasa Mpemnyama is a journalism student and an avid reader.