Fighting over 0,5% while students sit and worry about their exams
The University of Fort Hare is falling deeper into a sinkhole as wage negotiations come to a standstill
A wage increase stand-off over half a percentage point has brought the University of Fort Hare to its knees.
Angry students have been unable to write their mid-term exams or attend lectures since mid-June due to the National Education, Health and Allied Workers’ Union (Nehawu) strike.
Students have also been cautioned to stay in their residences for their safety following disruptions and intimidation of staff by striking members.
“We are really desperate,” said Zuko Matyobile, a second-year BSc student at the Alice campus.
“We are still not back at classes since the start of this strike. We want to write our exams and the institution should assist us by providing better security.”No end is in sight for the six-week-long strike, as the university has agreed to an effective seven-and-a-half percent wage hike, but the union is demanding eight percent. Its initial demand was 12%.
In June, vice-chancellor Sakhela Buhlungu issued a statement postponing exams due to the disruption of some examinations by striking Nehawu members.
Students told Times Select they were struggling to cope and had resolved to ask the university for security as they want to write their exams.
A student who wanted to remain anonymous said she struggled at the start of the year and had hoped to catch up in mid-term exams. “This has affected me big time as I had prepared for these exams and now this,” said the BA student, based in East London.Some students and former students have taken to Facebook to voice their concerns. Alexos Mathon said: “The University of Fort Hare is falling deeper into a sinkhole. An institution that is leaderless is doomed. The management of the institution together with the council must provide direction to the varsity. The students are suffering most.”
The university has more than 16,000 students, 90% of whom rely on the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS).
While Nehawu could not be reached for comment, university spokesperson Khotso Moabi said teaching, learning and exams had been affected negatively.“We have not conducted the mid-term exams as yet, due to Nehawu members’ intimidation of non-striking staff. Lectures are continuing in our East London and Bhisho campus albeit fragmented at times,” said Moabi. He said the Alice main campus has been badly affected and little to no teaching had been conducted.
Moabi said the union was demanding eight percent and the university was offering employees in grades 5 to 17 a wage or salary increase of seven percent plus a notch increase of half a percent.
“The majority of universities in South Africa, including the richest, have settled at less than this.” He said there had been several attempts to resolve the impasse, but that no settlement had been reached yet.
“The strike continues. We continue to negotiate with all relevant stakeholders in trying to bring the strike to an end. It is our view that the demand is not reasonable. We have been in constant communication with the Department of Higher Education and Training and we can confirm that with the current offer to the unions, we have done the best we can under the circumstances.”Lunga Ngqengelele, spokesperson for Higher Education Minister Naledi Pandor, said the minister was extremely concerned about the situation and the effect the prolonged strike was having on students and staff at the university, in particular the effect on the academic programme.
“The department is in regular contact with the university management about what is happening at the university. She has met with the chairperson of the council to discuss the challenges,” Ngqengelele said.
“The director-general of the department is working with the university stakeholders in an attempt to bring the strike to an end. The minister would like to remind all stakeholders that the University of Fort Hare is a venerable public institution that serves some of the poorest students in the country.”
The 102-year-old university’s honours roll includes businesswoman Wendy Luhabe, photographer Peter Magubane, legendary singer Miriam Makeba, activists Dullah Omar, Albertina Sisulu and Govan Mbeki, artist George Pemba, former SAA CEO Khaya Ngqula and businessman Wiseman Nkuhlu.