Vaal University of Technology crippled by strike ahead of exams
Lecturers, cleaners and security guards down tools amid series of resignations and claims of corruption
Lecturers, cleaners and security guards are on strike at the Vaal University of Technology, bringing operations to a standstill and leaving its 22,000 students in the lurch ahead of mid-year exams.
The university council, its highest decision-making body, cannot make any decisions – including about salary increases – because it has too few members for a quorum.
At least nine council members, including the deputy chairperson, have resigned since October.
The head of the council, lawyer Tebogo Hlapalosa, revealed in a letter to staff that the council had too few members to meet the legal requirements to make decisions.
“Having promised that we shall come back to you with a WRITTEN RESPONSE by no later than May 2, we wish to advise that the council meeting could not take any decision on the issues raised due to the fact they meeting did not QUORATE ( insufficient members) [sic].
“However, the issues remain in this agenda of the next council and after we have filled all vacant positions.”
According to the VUT statute, a legal act, there should be 31 council members and of those 60% must be external – neither staff nor students. A quorum is 50% plus one.
Student representative council president Wandile Maluleke confirmed that cleaners, security officials and lecturers were on strike.
“We wish to see these matter resolved urgently so students can go back to school. Exams begin on June 14,” said Maluleke.
In a letter on Thursday, the vice-chancellor urged staff to “resume operations as a matter of urgency”, promising that a special council meeting would be held on May 17.
“Staff are requested to please bear with management as the matter is being escalated to council for a resolution,” reads the letter, signed by Prof Gordon N Zide.
The resignations came amid allegations of corruption at the university by senior managers.
A staff member who did not want to be named said: “The university is really not functioning at all. The council doesn’t quorate, no decisions [are] taken. They can’t approve annual salary increases of employees because there is no council to do that.”
A few weeks ago, higher education minister Naledi Pandor met the council to “discuss resignations” and “challenges”.
Her spokesperson, Lunga Ngqengelele, said: “The minister and the council discussed a number of mechanisms to address challenges facing the university. The minister is indeed concerned about resignations from the council, as well as the allegations about the university that must be addressed effectively by the council of the university. The meeting was productive and allowed council members to inform the minister of the challenges facing the university and the work that it is doing.”
Ngqengelele would not say what was discussed, but Maluleke said it centred on how to replace the council members who had resigned as well as the shortage of funds for student accommodation.
Attempts to reach university spokesperson Mike Khuboni since Monday have been unsuccessful.
In 2018, Pandor ordered the now dysfunctional council to investigate complaints of corruption, tender fraud and academic fraud by senior staff members at the university.