For the first time in the university’s history Wits academic and support staff unions have collectively embarked on industrial action against Wits management over salaries and a range of other grievances.
Union members marched through Braamfontein in colourful academic robes and with yellow cards giving a “final warning” to Wits management to bring a “meaningful” resolution to their demands.
“Seriously? That never happened in MY day! Times certainly are a-changin’!” was an alumna’s response to a tweet that it is not students who are protesting.
Wits management has seldom capitulated to the demands of protesters in the last few years, cementing the impression that it is unyielding.
As testament, the SRC and other student organisations celebrated a simple address by the Vice Chancellor during their hunger strike as “a victory” while the 17 Royal Mnandi dismissed chefs remained at home.
The unions have strongly suggested that Wits’ budget surplus, in excess of R100 million last year, should be dispensed in their fridges and savings accounts instead of the university’s capital projects and savings.
Wits however needs to guarantee its future as an institution and has argued that budget holders, including some union members, do not spend all the money they are allocated annually.
While Wits Vuvuzela acknowledges that the budget-deficit situation is more complex, it equally acknowledges that management has defaulted on its 10-year-old promise to pay academics at the 75th percentile, while investing heavily in its ambition to achieve top 100 status within the next 10 years.
The first protest was held on a freezing Friday afternoon last month, when around 150 staff members lined the entrance of the Senate House basement parking, heckling Council members as they drove in for a scheduled meeting.
Council chair Sakumzi Macozoma arrived in a R1.4-million Audi R8. He has other lucrative business interests but the contrast of his wealth with the demands of union members was notable.
Wits Vuvuzela believes that management should take decisive steps to show Wits staff their investment in this institution can earn them a mild semblance of Macozoma’s wealth. More importantly, they should not have to protest in the cold or threaten to strike to get their demands, even though these give us great stories.
Published in Vuvuzela, 16th edition, 20th July 2012.
Update: 30th July 2012
The retraction below was published in Vuvuzela, 17th edition, 27th July 2012:
Owing to confusion arising from last week’s editorial, Wits Vuvuzela would like to clarify that Wits Council chair Mr Saki Macozoma does not receive a salary from Wits University.
Vice Chancellor’s statement on protest – Wits University
Protest at Wits University – Sowetan Live