Mpumalanga varsity in crisis as students shut down campus, staff threaten to strike

The newly established University of Mpumalanga is in crisis – students have shut down a campus and academic staff may go on strike soon.

The students, who are studying teaching, have locked the university’s management out of the Siyabuswa campus near Groblersdal and have refused to allow construction workers on the campus since last Thursday. 

Their action came after the university failed to hire a campus manager and stopped paying R600 monthly stipends to the students.

Student representative council chairperson Khulekani Mabuza said the university management’s promises have been empty.

“We are prepared to end the strike when the stipends start reflecting in our accounts. We started engaging the management in February but they have been making empty promises to solve the issues,” said Mabuza.

The stipends, he said, were paid to students as part of their bursaries.

This institution and the Sol Plaatje University in Northern Cape opened their doors in 2014 as the first post-apartheid universities in South Africa.

Currently, the University of Mpumalanga has 307 students enrolled for the following qualifications: bachelor of agriculture, diplomas in agriculture, hospitality management, information communication technology and bachelor of education (foundation phase teaching) at its three campuses in Mbombela and Siyabuswa.

Meanwhile, the National Education Health and Allied Workers Union (Nehawu) has threatened to strike over pension funds, medical aid benefits, accrued leave and housing allowances.

The affected workers at the Mbombela campus were transferred from the Lowveld Agricultural College, which was run by the Mpumalanga Department of Agriculture.

Nehawu provincial secretary, Sizwe Motha, said the issues were not addressed when the workers were migrated from the department.

“There is no transparency who is now handling the pension funds and our members are being referred back to the department, which says they have been deleted from its system,” said Motha.

“We had suggested that it would be better if the pensions were paid out and members started afresh when they joined the university. Our members are now having to pay out of their pockets for medical expenses, because all matters have been left unattended. We might go on a full-blown strike,” he added.

University of Mpumalanga vice-chancellor Thokozile Mayekiso did not answer his phone.

The university aims to introduce new programmes in 2016 – a bachelor of science in agriculture, advanced diploma in agriculture, bachelor of arts in developmental studies and a diploma in wildlife conservation.

By 2025, when all infrastructure would have been built, the university will be able to enrol between 18 000 and 20 000 students and employ about 600 staff members.

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