/ 30 January 2009

Merger, pay gripes see Tshwane University grind to a halt

Tshwane University of Technology (TUT) student Thamsangqa Mayisela stood confused amid protesting workers and students on Tuesday.

A third-year education student at TUT’s Soshanguve north campus, Mayisela has not received his results and has nowhere to live. “I don’t know whether I’ve passed or failed,” he complained. “I’m worried about my future.”

The academic year had barely started when staff at South Africa’s second-largest tertiary institution downed chalk over pay — and 50 000 students on nine campuses followed suit by striking over merger-related grievances.

Last week academic, administrative and general staff at the university’s three campuses demonstrated on the Pretoria campus over demands for an 11% pay rise.

When management refused to budge from its 10% offer, they reverted to their initial 12% demand.

“We will strike for as long as it takes, even if it means the university stops all its operations,” said Tshepo Makitla of the National Education Health an Allied Workers Union.

This week frustrated students joined the demonstrations, bringing the university to a total standstill.

On Tuesday, as registration of students and all other administrative functions were suspended, the university was swarming with staff demonstrators, toyi-toying students and police.

Waving posters ordered vice-chancellor Errol Tyobeka to “go to hell”, as students and staff members blockaded the entrance to the Tyobeka’s office and handed a list of demands to management.

These included academic and financial exclusions, alleged systematic errors in students’ accounts, quality and infrastructural shortcomings and “one-sided” decision-making by management.

Disparate infrastructure
Students ascribed most of the problems to the failure of the merger between the formerly black Technikon Northern Gauteng, Technikon North West and the formerly white Pretoria Technikon, which gave birth to TUT in 2004.

The merger assimilated a mish-mash of student cultures, staff work ethics, academic standards and disparate infrastructure.

“The Pretoria campus seems to be more important than other TUT campuses,” said student representative council president Lincoln Morgan.

Morgan complained about the poor standard of infrastructure and the inefficiency of student services in Soshanguve and Ga-Rankuwa. He said the quality of lecturing in Pretoria was far better than at other campuses.

“Our residences here are so bad. Some buildings are falling apart and the showers are broken. Some will get fixed but most will be left like that for the whole year,” he said.

“This is a very complex merger and we demand that the minister of education address this issue. [Tyobeka] and his people are against what the mergers are advancing.”

In 2007 a Council on Higher Education quality audit highlighted that the development of urban campuses might pose larger challenges than TUT could deal with on its own.

The panel highlighted the poor infrastructure and facilities at the Soshanguve and Ga-Rankuwa campuses.

The executive deans warned that this unevenness could damage the viability of the single-faculty location model — the offering of certain degrees on one campus only.

The move to such a model could compromise poor and rural students’ access to higher education.

The panel also suggested that TUT partner with provincial and municipal governments in upgrading the campuses.