When Ayanda Martin left his hometown of Dimbaza in the Eastern Cape, in search of opportunity in Port Elizabeth, he did not think that just seven years later he would be so close to achieving what once seemed like a pipe dream.
Martin, who is a member of the security staff at Nelson Mandela University, is in his final year of study towards a BA in forensic science and technology. He is excited about the prospect of being the first in his family to get a degree — an achievement he thought he would only have managed to tick off his list at least five years from now.
He is part of the cohort of about 800 contract workers who were employed by the university after the University Council’s November 2015 resolution to “end outsourcing of service workers [because] this practice leads to exploitation of labour and unethical practices not in line with the university’s core values”.
Martin said: “That was a very good initiative that has changed my life. I didn’t realise then what it would mean for us. Before, we were exploited and we were powerless, because we wanted to keep our jobs. Things are a lot better now.”
The council also resolved to offer the former contract workers the opportunity to study, which Martin said he “grabbed with both hands”.
The council’s decisions were taken during the #FeesMustFall protests.
Martin holds a higher certificate in criminal justice from Unisa, which he financed, after which he began his forensics degree at the same institution, which Nelson Mandela University is paying for.
“I’m one of those people who like to watch crime series and have a personal interest in ‘white collar’ or occupational crime. My dream is to one day work for some of the big national crime-fighting organisations, like the Hawks.”
For now, he is part of a mentoring programme, through which he is acquiring on-the-job training as an investigator. This follows a recent skills audit at Nelson Mandela University, which needs to improve its internal investigation capacity.
“I really enjoy my job,” said Martin. “I’m very passionate about this kind of work and I am interested in researching, discovering and solving things.
“I can say I’ve started living my professional dream because I’m doing some real investigations and gaining some great practical experience. It’s so exciting and makes coming to work that much nicer.”
Since the decision to end contracting out jobs, the university has undertaken a big reintegration process for all four of its service functions: horticulture and sports field maintenance, catering, cleaning and security.
Consultative working groups — representatives from the university’s management, unions, service workers and students —have steered the process over the past two years.
The two key objectives are social justice considerations and long-term sustainability of the institution. The former includes a commitment towards an institutional culture that encourages employee empowerment and mobility, while the latter seeks to achieve the university’s sustainability objectives without increasing existing constraints on its finances.
A big part of the social justice considerations is anchored in the university’s intent to provide opportunities and enabling conditions for employees to improve their livelihoods. The employee empowerment and development strategy consists of: skills development and enhancement; leadership training and development; succession planning; targeted training or enhancement of technical skills for women; and a formal internship or graduate in-training programme.
More than 500 support services staff members have partaken in training and development initiatives, such as the three-year matric programme, vocational training and development, safety, and computer and other technology training.
Following a skills audit earlier this year, 81 employees from across the service functions have enrolled for the matric programme, with a further 93 completing a leadership development programme.
The university is in the process of rolling out cellphones to all staff members who are not office bound and don’t have access to computers. They will also receive digital skills training. All staff will be able to access emails, university information, the staff portal and intranet support services.
It is all about bridging the digital divide and ensuring inclusion throughout the university.
Zandile Mbabela is the media manager at Nelson Mandela University