DURBAN– The future of more than 20 000 students hangs by a thread as the Durban University of Technology strike nears no end. I am one of them.
My name is Thembela and I’m a 20-year-old final year journalism student at the Durban University of Technology. As a third year, I am required to find an internship for 6 months, starting from June. If not, I will not graduate.
The following dates will play a vital role to help you understand my frustrations and blatant anger with the institution of which I am currently registered to study.
The staff of the University returns to work. After one week at work, students become aware of the beginning of a strike as the unions negotiate a salary and housing allowance increase.
All students were supposed to register and begin lectures the following day, Tuesday the 6th. But the University replied with silence. And at this very moment students are aware of the strike; however, the media seems unaware.
Then, the University broke its silence by sending out letters that lectures will begin on the following week, Tuesday the13th meanwhile students are urged to register online.
February 13th and 14th
I attended my classes and everything looked to be running smoothly.
A notice saying lectures have been suspended until further notice. After only attending 2 days’ worth of lectures, they have now been suspended. The rug has ultimately been pulled out from under our feet.
The University issues a lockdown on its premises as management refuses to negotiate further.
The current matter at hand is that employees initially wanted a 10 % raise and an increase in housing allowance. Management offered only 6.5% and workers came down to 8 % but the university refuses to increase. Since then academia has hit a dead end.
Today the strike is on its way to the 8th week.
My mother who works at DUT has been paid half her salary and says some of her co-workers have not been paid at all. For my family, this is financially straining because my mother is responsible for a lot at home.
I thank God I have a father who is working and is trying to pick up the pieces.
Furthermore, adding more fuel to the already ignited fire, is that the Vice Chancellor, Prof Thandwa Mthembu, in one interview with TimesLive said that we can “kiss the year goodbye” if this continues. Hence why I find myself angry. The current VC, Prof. Mthembu doesn’t seem bothered that our academic life is halted against our own will.
Mthembu claims that his staff cannot be replaced and is adamant about them returning back to work. And is not willing to meet them halfway with their demands.
I’m afraid if this continues, students are going to have be forced to take an involuntary gap year. No one knows how long the staff at DUT will go underpaid or whether they will return to work or not.
At this moment, our campuses are hostile academic environments where Mi7 (campus security) fire rubber bullets at protesting staff and students. This is the first impression the university offers its young first years, 7 weeks of time wasted and protests.
According to IOL news reports, The Deputy Minister of Higher Education, Mduduzi Manana is set to meet with DUT management for the second time, in efforts to resolve this dispute.
However, the question arises, where is the minister of Higher Education herself?
If Manana had already tried and failed (hence his second attempt), does this not warrant a statement from the minister?
I have no choice but to feel let down and forgotten. If this strike was occurring at universities like UCT, WITS or Rhodes, I’m pretty sure the minister would have at least addressed the public if not intervened.
As students we can only make so much noise before another “until further notice” letter is sent out. We can only protest so much until we are shot with rubber bullets or sprayed with water cannons but right now we are at the mercy of the institution pleading for an education that we have already paid registration for.
(Thembelenkosini Makhuba: firstname.lastname@example.org)