National bus strike hurts struggling UJ students

Thousands of University of Johannesburg (UJ) students have been missing lectures and tests because they, like so many other commuters, have been left stranded by the nationwide bus strike, which is entering its fourth week.

The university has four campuses and has a contract with Mega Bus to provide transport daily for about 13 000 students whose residences are not on the campuses they attend.

On Tuesday, drivers nationally rejected a new proposed wage increase of 8.75% during the first year, and 8.25% in the second year. They are demanding a 9% increase in the first year and 8% in the second year.

This week, several UJ students described how they have been missing tests, failing to submit assignments and being unable to attend classes because there are no buses.

The university’s spokesperson, Herman Esterhuizen, said there were usually 15 buses available to transport students to and from its campuses — Auckland Park, Bunting Road, Doornfontein and Soweto.

READ MORE: #BusStrike: Taxis bracing for busy day as bus drivers go on strike

Since the strike began, students have had to find other ways to get to class.

Students complain that the university sent them a communique to say there was a bus strike but did not suggest other ways of getting to the campuses or help those affected.

First-year BSc student Donald Montsho said he had not attended classes every day since the strike began and had even missed a test. His residence is at the Doornfontein campus but he attends classes at the Auckland Park campus.

“Since the bus strike, I have been using my own money to travel from my residence to campus,” he said. “Last week I missed a test because I did not have money for a taxi to come to campus, and some days I walk with other students.”

Gosiame Moloko, a second-year BCom accounting student from Orlando, Soweto, said there were days when he had to walk to the Bree Street taxi rank from the Auckland Park campus, and even once at night, because he had an evening test, and he was scared.

Moloko normally catches a bus in Orlando on its way to pick up students at the Soweto campus. Now he has to catch two taxis to get to Auckland Park and that costs him R80 a day.

“It’s only my mom who is working and sometimes she does not have the money,” he said. “Sometimes I go and hustle on the streets to make sure that I have the taxi fare. I’m a boy, I hustle, I play dice to make sure that I have money to go to school. It’s tough.”

READ MORE: DUT students’ dreams in limbo

The chairperson of the Economic Freedom Fighters Student Command at UJ, David Raphunga, said they had called on the university to buy its own buses and to hire drivers to avoid a similar situation in the future.

“We want those students that have missed their tests, classes and assignments to be given a chance to do their academic work. It’s not fair on them,” he said. “In two weeks time we are starting with exams but we have students that missed their tests [and] they don’t even know if they qualify for exams. Our campuses are empty. Only those who use private student residence transport are coming on campus and those who own cars.”

Esterhuizen said the university had looked at other arrangements, such as using its own vehicles, but it was not feasible because there were not enough cars.

He said the university was urging students affected by the strike to approach their lecturers or heads of department to make arrangements regarding missed tests and other academic activities.

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Bongekile Macupe
Bongekile Macupe is an education reporter at the Mail & Guardian.

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