Security guards fire rubber bullets at protesting DUT students

2018-02-22 19:43
DUT students are threatening to shut down the institution if management does not resolve the ongoing staff strike over salaries soon. (Supplied)

DUT students are threatening to shut down the institution if management does not resolve the ongoing staff strike over salaries soon. (Supplied)

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Durban – Security guards at Durban University of Technology (DUT) fired rubber bullets at students who had marched to hand over a memorandum of grievances to the office of the vice-chancellor on Thursday.

About 300 students from different student organisations participated in the protest at the university's Steve Biko campus.

They are demanding that the university's management resolve an ongoing salary dispute with staff, which had led to a strike, so that they can start their classes.

Teaching came to a halt at learning at DUT since the staff, including lecturers, downed tools six weeks ago.

Fees Must Fall activist and EFF Students Command (EFFSC) leader at the institution Bonginkosi Khanyile, told News24 that one of their main demands was to resume classes.

"As the EFFSC, we want to go back to class. We want the ongoing staff strike at the institution to be resolved so that students can start with their academic calendar," he said.

Khanyile said they were on their way to vice-chancellor Thandwa Mthembu's office – which is at the Steve Biko campus – when they were stopped by Mi7 security guards.

The security guards have been protecting Mthembu's office since the staff strike began.

"They opened fire at the students without even giving a proper reason for their action," he claimed.

However, they managed to hand over their memorandum despite the shooting, Khanyile said.

Provincial police spokesperson, Lieutenant Colonel Thulani Zwane confirmed that security guards fired rubber bullets to disperse protesting students.

"There were no injuries reported. The SAPS' public order policing unit was also there to monitor the situation," he said.

The students had on Wednesday threatened to shut down the institution if its management failed to resolve the ongoing strike.

The strike, by members of the National Tertiary Education, National Health Education and Allied Workers' unions, as well as the Tertiary Education National Union of South Africa, has led to the suspension of classes at the university.

Mqondisi Duma, South Africa Students Congress provincial secretary, had told News24 on Wednesday that one of the main reasons behind the threat of a shutdown was to force management to reopen negotiations with all unions.

"They must find an amicable solution and allow students to study. Our students are currently stuck at residences since they are not attending classes but, at the end of the month, they are expected to pay their monthly school fees for doing nothing," said Duma.

Duma revealed that, out of the 29 500 students who were expected to register at the university, only half had been registered.

"We will close all campuses if management doesn't find an amicable solution to the strike or if they don't allow us to continue with our studies," he said.

While the students demonstrated for their right to study, the staff also handed in their memorandum indicating that they have taken a "vote of no confidence" in Mthembu.

"You have displayed gross lack of leadership and management skills. Your treacherous actions are not conducive to a harmonious relationship between labour and management," the memorandum stated.

The unions claimed Mthembu had suppressed staff and attempted to "bring us to a level of slavery".

"We hereby demand that you leave DUT so that normality can be restored. We were happy before you came. It is now time for you to leave our institution," they said in the memorandum.

The university was not immediately available for comment on Thursday.

Alan Khan, senior director of corporate affairs at DUT, said on Wednesday that management held a meeting with the student representative council to discuss their concerns.

"Both parties agreed to devise plans that will address the challenges that were raised. To date, the university has registered 22 797 students and 6 320 of those students are first-year registrations," he said.

Khan said negotiations between the staff's labour unions and DUT management remained deadlocked.

"The three unions rejected the university's 6.5% increase on basic salary, as well as a 6.5% increase for the monthly housing allowance. The university has not accepted the three labour unions' demand for a once-off bonus (14th cheque)," he said.

On the issue of the vote of no confidence in Mthembu, DUT council chairperson Wiseman Madinane told the media on January 25 that the council declared Mthembu fit for the position in November last year after reviewing his performance.

Mthembu joined DUT in October 2016.

"We did a 360-degree review towards the end of the year 2017. We interviewed the direct reports of the vice-chancellor - all the people who report to him, students in the form of the SRC, unions, past students of the institution and some members of the council, and that review overwhelmingly said Mthembu was fit for purpose. He is the right man for the job. He is on the right path and council accepted and approved that review," Madinane said.

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