Students ‘stampede’ over new bus system

 

MARCHING AHEAD: Witsies filling up the bus to secure their seats. Photo: Anelisa

MARCHING AHEAD: Witsies  line up quickly to fill a circuit bus. Photo: Anelisa Tuswa

By: Palesa Tshandu and Anelisa Tuswa  

Wits students were involved in a stampede while trying to board a single bus, apparently serving eighteen residences, on Sunday. The incident happened at Wits Education campus where students from various residences had converged to catch a bus to Rosebank as part of a new bus system implemented by Wits Services.

Wits Junction House Committee vice-chairpeson Nkululeko Tselane said the issue with the new system is that “all the res’es have to go to Education campus for a bus”. Tselane said the “chaos” started with Rosebank buses, where students from eighteen different residences had to use a single bus stop at Education campus.

“All these res’es come to one spot – and everybody has to get on the bus because there’s no standing in the buses … it’s a stampede hazard which is what we as the house committees we are worried about,” said Tselane.

Tselane who was at Wits Services earlier today to discuss the issue, said the change in the bus schedule was not communicated properly to his House Committee. “The House Committee has been opposed to it from the beginning … we said that we don’t agree with it, it’s not practical.”

“Siyahamba nomtwalo, bese sibuya ngomtwalo (we go with baggage and we come back with baggage)

Thivhulawi Ramukhuba, one of the drivers who was at the scene of the incident said the issue is with students who use the Rosebank route to get to main campus instead of waiting for a direct bus to the campus. “Siyahamba nomtwalo, bese sibuya ngomtwalo (we go with baggage and we come back with baggage),” he said referring to students who don’t climb off the bus at Education campus and instead remain until the bus reaches main campus.

Ramukhuba said this has been an on-going issue where students do not get off at their intended destination. “The situation is similar with those who get off at EOH (Ernest Oppenheimer) res – we tell them to get next bus but instead the students stay on the bus and we go with them to Rosebank and back.” He confirmed that he hasn’t raised the issue with students as he wants to avoid conflict. “I’d rather keep my mouth shut,” he said.

Tselane said the issue has to be addressed today because part of the changes that have been implemented was that the buses are leaving every 30 minutes instead of every 15. “That’s our issue now … people are late for lectures because they are not making it on time. It’s compromising academics.”

Wits Vuvuzela contacted Wits Services’ Operations Manager:Transport Timothy Mudau who said that he cannot respond because “we are still not sure of what happened.”

Hope for Witsie homeless

WORK, SLEEP, REPEAT:  Applied Drama MA student Limpho Kou reenacts a “sleeping” situation amongst Witsies working and studying in the CNS labs in Senate House, to draw their attention to the issue that their peers live and sleep in computer labs and libraries on campus.    Photo: Lameez Omarjee

WORK, SLEEP, REPEAT: Applied Drama MA student Limpho Kou reenacts a “sleeping” situation amongst Witsies working and studying in the CNS labs in Senate House, to draw their attention to the issue that their peers live and sleep in computer labs and libraries on campus. Photo: Lameez Omarjee

A new project to create awareness about homeless students sleeping in campus libraries and computer labs, is gaining attention.

The project was spearheaded by a Wits master’s student, as part of her academic research. It aims to give voice to students living in computer labs and libraries on campus.

The hope is that through exposing this on-going issue, there would be some solutions by the Wits community to help those who do not have the financial means for proper accommodation.

Creating awareness

As part of a project for theatre as activism, education and therapy, masters in applied drama student Susie Maluleke chose the topic as she remembers seeing students sleeping in the CNS labs on campus since first year.

The project plan consists of hosting workshops at the project sites: the computer labs and libraries, to ask students whether they know that their peers use the same space for sleeping or living.

Additionally, with the help of classmates, Maluleke will put up displays of make-shift sleeping spots, “I’m going to provide a blanket to create a sleeping display, but not a comfortable sleeping place to make people realise the space is used for different purposes.”

Maluleke identified the students through their “huge bags”.

“You could see these people weren’t living anywhere outside that space.”

At the time Maluleke felt there was nothing she could do, but now she has an opportunity to address the issue by creating dialogue around it and find help for these students by talking about it.

A friend of hers knew someone who spent two years living and sleeping in the labs, “because they didn’t qualify for financial aid from NSFAS”. Students struggle to afford accommodation off campus and transport costs for places outside Johannesburg are also hard to cover.

“You get to go to Wits but you might not be able to afford to eat or live.”

Maluleke had a friend who was sleeping in the computer labs because she could not afford to pay for taxi services from Wits to Soweto every day. “They don’t have bus services, they don’t have scholarships.”

She was particularly struck by the fact that there was no visible information in labs indicating where students could seek help. “It saddens me. There must be something that can be done about these people.”

Impacting campus

Lecturer Cherae Halley who gave the students the project as part of their course said they were required to find a community or site to address a social issue for their final year project. In previous years, students raised awareness about the sexual assault by lecturers on students, according to Halley.

Even though this is course work, this project could possibly help the homeless students, through raising awareness.

Her supervisor Anthony Schrag commended Maluleke for taking on a local and context specific project that resonated with national issues. “We have these positions of privilege that people sort of access but not really access. You get to go to Wits but you might not be able to afford to eat or live.”

The project is only in its beginning stages and will continue until the end of the semester. However, Maluleke hopes the impact of the project will be big enough to continue even after she graduates. She hopes that Wits would create a body for students to go to for help.

She does, however, know of a student in the same situation who received help from Wits Services.

“She is trying to challenge those departments and challenge them to do more about it. If she makes an impact future students that arrive here might not find themselves here, said Schrag.

Maluleke will only know how successful the project is once it is complete. “Success for me will be creating dialogue within those spaces. Make people engage or talk.” Schrag agreed, “With art you don’t really know until you do it.”
Halley sees the potential of the project to grow and impact the Wits community.

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Theatre staff complain over overtime pay

 

EMPTY POCKETS:  Disgruntled staff at the Wits Theatre are clashing with new management, about over-time pay.  Photo: Lameez Omarjee

EMPTY POCKETS: Disgruntled staff at the Wits Theatre are clashing with new management, about over-time pay. Photo: Lameez Omarjee

By Lameez Omarjee and Roxanne Joseph

Wits Theatre staff are complaining about changes in the way they are paid overtime saying “new management” limits their claims.

“Our contract says five days a week, but now we work up to seven days sometimes,” said Sipho*, who works at the theatre.

Spreading hours

Sipho said the work hours set in their contracts have been spread out across the week, and not five days. Even though workers come in on the weekends, they do not get paid for overtime because they are still working off the week’s required work hours.

Sipho was told by management they did not qualify for “overtime” pay because the “minister” does not allow it. Sipho also said that “all” the staff were unhappy with conditions.

“They [are] limiting worker hours,” said Olivia Moeti, whose mother works at the Wits Theatre. Workers finish at 3pm on weekdays but come in on Saturday to work the other hours required by their contract, she said.
The theatre employs five cleaners, two of whom are directly employed by Wits.

According to theatre manager Gita Pather, university policy states that anyone who earns under the threshold of R198 000 each year is entitled to overtime and has to work at least 42.5 hours a week. They also cannot work more than 10 hours overtime, because it is against labour law.

“The rules of the industry have been negotiated and are in line with university policy and labour laws,” she said. When she took over as manager, overtime rules were not strictly enforced.

“They were getting paid overtime and taking toil,” she said. “Those who didn’t qualify for overtime were being given it anyway … People had gotten used to being paid huge amounts of overtime.”
But this year, she was given a budget and has to use that amount allocated to overtime across the whole year.

New management

Problems started when new management took over this year, said Moeti. “My mum has been working here for 31 years, this is the first time it’s happening.” The new management insists that these new rules come from Wits University, she said.

“According to management, they say, Wits says it’s [work on Saturdays] is not overtime … They say Wits says they must get a day off instead of paying them,” she said.

“I am completely satisfied that we are working within the rules set by the university and labour laws.”

However, Pather did not know about this and said the only thing that has changed is the number of hours they are allowed to work. Unless it is festival time, employees do not work on a Sunday and they work off a call sheet.

Wits Services, who manage the cleaning staff, are not aware of any overtime issues. According to director Nicki McGee: “We undertake when appointing service providers via the approved, transparent tender processes, and in consultation with numerous stakeholders at the university.

“The service providers adhere to the Basic Conditions of Employment Act … to ensure that such practices do not occur.”

Additionally, there aren’t different rates for night shift, from 4pm to 8.30pm. No provision for transport is made for staff ending their shifts at night. “It’s not fair to let a woman walk to Bree in the middle of the night,” said Moeti.
Pather said security provides transport to all Wits employees who work late at night. “They take them to the taxi rank.”

Moeti said management was trying to save on expenses throughout the year so that they could get “more money in December”. She said: “They’re trying to save, they’re saving on other people’s expense.”
She also said more people had problems but they were too scared to come forward, out of fear of losing their jobs.

“There is an issue,” Pather said. “But I have a set amount of money.” She said the theatre is “completely compliant”. She said she is aware of the unhappiness, but has a budget and has to manage that.
“I am completely satisfied that we are working within the rules set by the university and labour laws.”

*not his real name

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The wheels on the bus (don’t) go round…

esselen

Education and medical students were not told about the bus schedule changes and have missed lectures as a result. Photo: Tracey Ruff

It has been a confusing and frustrating start to the week for the many Witsies who use the campus bus services.

Changes have been made to the bus timetable due to the midterm study break, but Wits Education Campus (WEC) and medical school students still have normal classes.

According to Wits Services, there are supposedly four circuit buses running every 15 minute intervals and two buses running every 30 minute intervals. However, direct bus services between Esselen and WEC have been canceled despite education students still being in lectures.

Florence Moloi, 2nd year BEd, said the “services have been really bad”. She said that on Monday there were no buses, especially in the morning and in the afternoon at 4pm.

Moloi said that many students were late for class on Monday morning and “people were pushing each other to get on the [circuit] buses to go home” at the end of the day.

Moloi, who stays on Main campus, feels that there is no consideration for education students.

Makaziwe Tshona, 2nd year BEd, said that although the situation was “a bit better today,” there have been no direct buses to WEC and she “has to wait for circuit buses which are full”.

[pullquote]“A lot of people are sick and tired of this. I’ve been waiting 35 minutes for a bus.”[/pullquote]

On Monday, Tshona had a geography lecture at the Planetarium that she was late for due to the lack of  bus services.

According to a first-year student, who asked to remain anonymous, “A lot of people are sick and tired of this. I’ve been waiting 35 minutes for a bus.” She said she wants to complain but “doesn’t know who to complain to”.

According to a tweet from the account of @moreki_m, “the situation at Amic Deck [on Main campus] and Esselen is so bad. Some students are even walking to Education campus”.

“Funny thing is, we are the ones who use the bus more than any other students since our campus is in Parktown,” tweeted Moreki.

When asked if he knew there were going to be changes to the timetable, Moreki replied, “we knew about the main campus break but weren’t formally notified that it was gonna affect the bus timetable”.

The latest tweet from Wits services on the bus situation, posted at 9:15pm on Monday, read: “We do apologise – there will be a direct @WitsSln [Esselen] and WEC bus  tomorrow [Tuesday].”

However, students have continued to complain on Twitter that no direct bus service has resumed as of Tuesday afternoon.

Wits has no control over high food prices at the Matrix

matrix

The Matrix is the hub of East Campus activity, catering to thousands of students on a daily basis. Photo: Roxanne Joseph

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.

Reckless driving by Wits buses

A Wits bus travelling at “a ridiculous speed” shot through two sets of red robots while carrying a number of Wits students back to their residences last week, according to a Witsie who was on the bus.

Nokulunga Sithole, LLB, tweeted about the event to the All Residence Council:  “It is unacceptable for bus drivers to be beating red robots and driving at such a ridiculous speed so late at night.”

Sithole was on the reverse circuit bus on August 1 at 11pm when the bus driver drove through the red traffic lights near KPMG on Empire Rd, on the way to Knockando, she said. He then jumped another set of red robots between Ernest Oppenheimer residence and Knockando.

[pullquote]Honestly sometimes when I am on the bus I don’t feel safe and am thankful when I get to my destination[/pullquote].

“Not only that, but the speed he was driving at was just ridiculous.”

As an indication of how fast the bus was travelling, the LLB student told Wits Vuvuzela it took only 15 minutes to get from main campus to Esselen. In her experience, this trip had never taken so little time.

“I’ve been on the bus a number of times where the bus driver will speed up just to beat a robot and sometimes pass a robot just as it turns red.”

Last term, Wits Vuvuzela wrote about reckless driving of buses, reported by students. A student tweeted Wits Services Department, of which the bus services forms part: “Wits drivers shud revise the way they drive cz sum of em are reckless. ‘XLZ996 GP’ @ 11:45 bus to JCE! wasnt pleased.[sic]”

At the time, bus services operations manager, Sue-Ann Reid, told Wits Vuvuzela the complaints were referred to management, who then spoke to the drivers. But this week, Sithole said Wits Bus Services had not yet come back to her about her complaint.

Honestly sometimes when I am on the bus I don’t feel safe and am thankful when I get to my destination

Wits Vuvuzela contacted Wits Services, but at the time of going to print, had not received any comment.

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