United Democratic Movement (UDM) leader Bantu Holomisa has called on President Jacob Zuma to intervene to end the Walter Sisulu University (WSU) strike, the Dispatch Online reported on Tuesday.
"The workers have passed a vote of no confidence in [Higher Education] Minister Blade Nzimande and now want President Zuma to intervene urgently, fearing for the collapse of the institution," the UDM leader said.
"Community members cry as they feel the university is under threat and they want Zuma to declare what is going on in WSU as a crisis," he reportedly said.
The protracted strike was in its seventh week and talks were set to continue between representatives of the National Education, Health and Allied Workers' Union (Nehawu) and the National Tertiary Education Union and university management.
Staff were demanding an 8% to 10% increase while management was only offering 4.25% backdated to January this year.
No confidence in Nzimande
The DispatchOnline reported Holomisa, traditional, church and community leaders met in Mthatha to discuss issues affecting WSU.
Stakeholders attending the meeting passed a vote of no confidence in Nzimande and appealed to a newly established task team to urge Zuma to intervene.
The task team included Holomisa; Congress of Traditional Leaders of South Africa president Phathekile Holomisa; Eastern Cape House of Traditional Leaders chairperson Ngangomhlaba Matanzima; ANC MPs Zukile Luyenge and Vatiswa Bam-Mugwanya; and Council of Churches regional chairperson Vusumzi Mabo.
Holomisa reportedly said they would write to the presidency on Tuesday asking for intervention.
However, in a statement later on Tuesday, Eastern Cape South African Communist Party spokesperson Siyabonga Mdodi dismissed the vote of no confidence in Nzimande as an "anti-communist sentiment".
"We view some of the comments as anti-communist sentiments disguised as genuine voice representing the plight of the university," Mdodi said.
He called the vote unfair, saying: "We find this to be very unfair as no one denies the resources pumped into the university under the leadership of comrade Blade Nzimande, who is not the minister of WSU but the minister of department of higher education and training with many challenges," Mdodi said.
On Thursday, higher education director general Gwebs Qonde said the university was still technically and commercially bankrupt.
Qonde said the university could only afford a 4.25% increase.
Qonde said he had met the parties concerned in early August, but was unable to reach a settlement as the unions did not appear to grasp the gravity of their demands and the potentially disastrous consequences.
He defended the administrator's decision to shut down all WSU campuses and send students home.
"The risk to safety of students and prolonged nature of the strike has resulted in the university taking the decision to vacate the residences and send students home for a short term," he said.
The decision has already led to protests by students who clashed with police on Wednesday. At least a dozen students were injured during the scuffles.
'Playing Russian roulette'
Meanwhile, the Congress of the People Youth Movement (Cope YM) has condemned the threats made by the South African Democratic Teachers' Union (Sadtu) in KwaZulu-Natal to disrupt matric trial exams in the province.
"We call on all the teachers and the education department to desist from playing Russian roulette with the education and future of our pupils," Cope YM spokesperson Bongani Mahlangu said in a statement on Tuesday.
Mahlangu added that Sadtu was unreasonably holding the education department to ransom, well-knowing that the pupils' future would be at risk.
The movement said it was shocked and dismayed by the "childish" threats. "The disruption will place the already chaotic education system at the brink of collapse," Mahlangu said.
The South African Democratic Students Movement also expressed concern at the threats, and described the action as outrageous.
Spokesperson Sfundo Nkonyane said preventing students from building their future demonstrated a lack of vision and passion by some teachers.
According to media reports, matric trials were disrupted in the province on Monday as some schools were prevented from collecting trial papers, and papers were not sent to schools.
Refund docked money
Sadtu's provincial office is demanding that head of department Nkosinathi Sishi be suspended and that a performance evaluation be done on his work.
They also want to be refunded money docked from the salaries of teachers who participated in a strike in 2011.
The exams were rescheduled to start on Wednesday. – Sapa