Wits takes over The Matrix
The Matrix food court is now under the management of Wits.
The Matrix food court is now under the management of Wits.
Sizzlers, a deli shop at the Matrix, was the scene of a protest after the company allegedly fired four worker for eating cheese, rolls and Viennas during their lunch hour.
TWO Wits Law students, Khanyisile Madonko, 22, and Ritondeni Matamela, 23, have found a savvy way to make money by opening a café and restaurant, Scribbles and Nibbles.
The café is located on West Campus at David Webster Res, far from the centre of the university and the Matrix – the largest food court space on campus where most students find themselves grabbing something to eat and socialise.
Scribbles and Nibbles is aiming to cater for students around Wits.
Madonko and Matamela wanted to target students on the Wits campus, and provide a convenient location that was not Braamfontein.
With the distance being an issue from the Matrix, the Scribbles and Nibbles team has thought of a different way to get to students on campus: delivery.
“Delivery will be to Wits and Braamfontein and how we will be getting it to you is with bicycles,” said Matamela.
Matamela and Madonko declined to talk about the specifics of how their business got off the ground but they said they owed it to their “networks”. They said that while it was a challenge to manage university work and the business it was “doable”.
Madonko said that finding time to think of a sustainable business plan that looks at student empowerment is their main mission.
“Every university has tuck shops but does not have structures that empower students … This business is for black empowerment,” said Madonko.
Matamela said they chose the name “Scribbles and Nibbles” because it had a catchy ring to it.
“It was a name I fell in love with, you would want to say it all the time,” he said.
UPDATED: Protesting workers from food franchises at Wits have met with their bosses to give their demands and will go back to work as they await a response next week.
“We have pitched our needs, demands and grievances to our bosses and we are waiting for responses and resolutions by next week Thursday,” said Thandiswa Yaphi, a protest leader and worker at Sizzlers.
Nicholas Matthes, a member of Wits Services, had helped facilitate Friday afternoon’s meeting and said the issues were sensitive with “many contributing factors.”
By Nasya Smith, Aarti Bhana and Leanne Cumming
Workers from food franchises on campus launched a lunchtime protest in the Matrix on Friday complaining that their working conditions are exploitative.
The singing and dancing workers were soon joined by some students during the protest as they forced the closure of Matrix shops.
Thandiswa Yaphi, who works at Sizzlers and is one of the protest leaders, said that some of the workers have been employed by food franchises on campus for over fifteen years but still do not have a contract. Some of the workers that do have contracts, allegedly have to adhere to strict bathroom times and still receive a wage below the legal minimum wage.
Yaphi said that the Labour department is not assisting them in dealing with their problems.
The protesting workers are also unhappy that they were not included in an insourcing agreement with Wits workers that topped-up salaries to a minimum of R4,500.
Akies Berdanis, owner of Zesty Lemonz, said that all food franchises on campus operate independently from the university and his employee’s pay is the same as in any other Zesty Lemonz franchise. Berdanis admitted that not all franchises on campus were aligned with regulations of the Bargaining Council, an association of staff and employers, last year but apparently most have “come to the party” since then.
When asked about the bathroom regulations, Berdanis said that the franchises merely ask if employees could avoid going to the bathroom during busy hours, but says “we are human, if you have to go you have to go”.
The protests are continuing and the workers are currently having a meeting to discuss the way forward.
Wits University has no control over the high cost of food at the Matrix as the building is outsourced.
The cost of food in the popular student venue is heavily influenced by the high price of rent shop owners are expected to pay to the management company, from anywhere between R8 000 and R38 000 a month.
The Matrix – which consists only of the ground floor and banks on the second floor (it makes up one part of the Student Union Building) – is outsourced, according to Director of Services, Theresa Main. This means that shop owners and managers in the Matrix end up paying rent to Micromatica, who privately owns the building, and not the university itself. Wits signed a twenty year contract with the property developer (Micromatica) in 2002 in order to invest, develop and manage the Matrix.
Originally created as the Student Union Building, housing the Student Representative Council (SRC), it was meant to bring in revenue for the SRC and although they are making money from it, it is very little in comparison to how much rent shop owners are expected to pay, according to a former SRC member who did want to be named.
[pullquote]It affects the price of their food and shop managers throughout the building are concerned about how expensive it is becoming for students to eat at the Matrix.[/pullquote]
The sweet shop, situated at the entrance of the building, pays the least amount of rent, according to its manager, Carla, who said “You have to pay rent, then more for the cleaners, staff and buy all of your stock … the rent is very high”. In total, it costs her about R20 000 to maintain her small business, that provides students with cheap cold drinks, chocolates, chips and other basics.
Although students only spend a total of about about six months on campus, shops are expected to pay rent for the entire year, with the exception of July and December, when campus shuts down entirely.
Rasta, the manager at Sizzler’s, says “my boss is always complaining about how expensive rent is”. It affects the price of their food and shop managers throughout the building are concerned about how expensive it is becoming for students to eat at the Matrix.
However, the university needs to cover all bases and maintaining such a large area (with so many different types of food options and requirements) costs money. Wits Services has “invested time and effort into building strong relationships with credible suppliers, adding the ingredient of ‘trust’ into the valued relationships we have with our customers throughout campus”. This is why the university chose to partner with a property developer in the first place, so that all of its needs could be fulfilled, according to Professor Beatrys Lacquet, Deputy Vice-Chancellor of Information, Knowledge and Infrastructure Management.
When asked about the increasing cost of food in the Matrix, Lacquet said, “Wits Services Department is very aware of the impact of pricing on food security on campus. As such, our Director of Services engaged in a comprehensive study to determine the impact of such on various levels as well as to determine the best business model for retail operations on campus”.
Hiring professionals to do so has continued to be the best solution for the university.
Shop owners and managers remain wary of increasing their prices by too much, with the worry that students will choose to eat off campus instead.