Students at two Eastern Cape universities back on campus after water cuts

The Daily Dispatch reported last week that Fort Hare vice-chancellor, Professor Sakhele Buhlungu, issued a memorandum on August 13 asking staff and students to vacate the campus and return on August 19. (Oupa Nkosi/M&G)

The Daily Dispatch reported last week that Fort Hare vice-chancellor, Professor Sakhele Buhlungu, issued a memorandum on August 13 asking staff and students to vacate the campus and return on August 19. (Oupa Nkosi/M&G)

The universities of Walter Sisulu and Fort Hare have reopened two of their campuses after shutting down last week because of a lack of water.

Fort Hare’s Alice campus and the Butterworth campus of Walter Sisulu University (WSU) were shut down after water supply was affected by protest action by Amathole district municipality workers who were demanding a salary increase.

The SABC reported that the two-week strike affected six local municipalities — among them Alice under the Raymond Mhlaba municipality and Butterworth in the Mnquma municipality — and that the striking workers allegedly closed valves, shutting off water supply.  The municipal workers are now back at work after an agreement of a 6.5% salary increase was reached.

WSU spokesperson Yonela Tukwayo told the Mail & Guardian that the Butterworth campus was opened today after it was shut down on Tuesday. She said this affected 6 700 students and 300 staff members.

Tukwayo said water supply in the Mnquma municipality has always been an issue, leading the campus to invest in water infrastructure in the form of tanks, pumps and a reservoir to ensure a reliable water supply. The university imports water from Mthatha, about 120 kilometres from Butterworth.

She said the campus was forced to shut down after protesting Butterworth community members invaded the campus last week, and destroyed the university’s own water infrastructure.

“Because they destroyed our water infrastructure we could not supply our students with the reserves that we put in place,” she said.

Tukwayo said the university hoped that students would be back on campus at least by Wednesday so that the academic programme can continue.

The M&G was unable to reach Thandi Mapukata, the Fort Hare’s spokesperson, but learned from staff at the Alice campus that the campus was opened after its 7 500 students had to be sent home because of lack of water.

The Daily Dispatch reported last week that Fort Hare vice-chancellor, Professor Sakhele Buhlungu, issued a memorandum on August 13 asking staff and students to vacate the campus and return on August 19.

Bongekile Macupe

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