UKZN maintenance staff join students’ protest action

2020-02-04 10:05
Students and maintenance staff at the University of KwaZulu-Natal’s Scottsville campus were chanting slogans and singing songs during protest action yesterday morning. PHOTO: NOKUTHULA KHANYILE

Students and maintenance staff at the University of KwaZulu-Natal’s Scottsville campus were chanting slogans and singing songs during protest action yesterday morning. PHOTO: NOKUTHULA KHANYILE

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Public Order Police in Pietermaritzburg were kept on their toes on Monday as student protests erupted again at the University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN) and University of South Africa (Unisa).

At UKZN early on Monday morning, students were engaged in running battles with police and campus security.

The student protest at UKZN was joined by the university’s maintenance staff who were up in arms against working conditions and “unsatisfactory wages”.

The staffers are employed by the university to perform tasks predominantly in the areas of garden services, cleaning, and security.

Armed with rocks and sticks, students challenged campus security.

In a bid to disperse the crowd, police used rubber bullets.

The students allegedly dumped faeces at the intersection of Golf and Ridge roads. A lecturer told The Witness that she was threatened by a student who told her to “go home or be hurt”.

The students want historical debt and financial exclusion to be scrapped.

Talks between the SRC and management at UKZN have reached a deadlock.

UKZN spokesperson Ashton Bodrick said following extensive deliberation on the matter of student demands, university management has decided that it is not possible to grant any further concessions, without putting the university at risk of bankruptcy.

“We cannot act in a way that is destructive of the university’s very foundations and would be self-defeating for the entire student body and future generations. The university cannot concede to what it cannot afford,” Bodrick said.

On the matter of no exclusions on academic grounds, Bodrick said the university has a duty to ensure that the integrity and worth of UKZN qualifications are preserved.

“If failed or failing students are permitted to remain and even graduate, the university will have no credibility and UKZN qualifications will be meaningless. The university cannot compromise on this or allow this to happen.

“University management is deeply disappointed that some of the student body are continuing to engage in acts of violence instead of reasoned discussion on how we can work through the challenges and make the best of our circumstances,” Bodrick said.

Disruptions were also reported at Westville, Howard College and Edgewood.

At Howard College campus the HIV support centre was set alight.

The building is the second to be torched. Last week the Risk Management Services building at Westville campus was set alight, allegedly by protesting students.

The university said the academic programme is continuing at all campuses, except Edgewood.

A maintenance worker, who would not be named for fear of victimisation, said yesterday that the workers were “tired of suffering” and it was time the community heard their complaints.

“This matter has been going on since before the Fees Must Fall protests,” he said. “We have been trying to negotiate with UKZN, but they have mostly been silent on the matter.

“It’s just not fair to pay someone R6 000 a month and expect them to look after their families and pay for transport every day on that amount.”

The workers said while they were absorbed by the university in 2016, they did not enjoy the same benefits as their counterparts in the same positions.

“We were told that we would be made permanent after three years.

“There are some cleaners who earn over R10 000 a month and we only get R6 000. That must end. We must all be paid equally because we do the same work,” interjected another worker.

On Langalibalele Street, there were traffic disruptions after Unisa students barricaded the road with burning tyre

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