Students, leaders at odds over strike

2010-03-10 00:00

STRIKE action at the University of KwaZulu-Natal’s Howard College campus ended with lectures being disrupted yesterday.

Nomonde Mbadi, executive director for corporate relations at the university, said about 200 students took part in the protest and that a memorandum outlining their grievances was handed to the university management.

The issues include a shortage of accommodation; appeals against financial aid being rejected; and students being denied registration as a result of last year’s outstanding fees.

Similar gripes mobilised students to strike at the UKZN’s Pietermaritzburg campus last week.

However, both the Durban and Pietermaritzburg strike action did not appear to enjoy the unanimous support of student organisation leaders.

Sandile Phakathi, chairman of the South African Student Congress (Sasco), said the Howard College campus strike came as a shock because the student representative council (SRC) leaders at that campus had not raised these concerns with Sasco, under whose ambit the SRC falls.

“We held a strike for free education on Friday and nothing was mentioned. So we don’t know the intentions of this strike besides the concerns that are affecting students that are being put forward,” said Phakathi.

The central SRC has said the issues that galvanised the recent strike at the Pietermaritzburg campus of UKZN — which resulted in students being pepper- sprayed and tear gas being thrown in a lecture room — were legitimate.

However, they believe the strike was premature.

Mudslinging, accusations of character assassination, sabotage and personal vendettas allegedly characterised last week’s strike.

This led to suggestions that even the pepper-spraying incident was part of a ploy to frustrate Thursday’s demonstrations.

The strike was largely organised by the branch of the Young Communist League (YCL) rather than the SRC.

The Witness understands that some members of the SRC were warning students against participating in the strike, claiming that it was illegal and that students who participated would not be protected.

However, Isaac Luthuli, the branch head of the YCL, maintained that the league had followed all due processes, and was even faxed a letter of approval by the university.

Central SRC president Thanduxolo Sabelo had initially told The Witness that the strike was premature since they were still in negotiations with management.

However, his secretary-general, Masika Mndebele, has since told the paper that the YCL was acting out of frustration over the slow pace at which things were moving.

He said the central SRC has adopted the strike and has inherited certain parts of the YCL memorandum.

He said that as students they would have wanted to be part of the strike, adding that if students were told not to participate in that strike, it was never mandated by the SRC.

Phakathi warned that students participating in strikes need to avoid being involved in the destruction of property, since such actions remove public focus from legitimate grievances.

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