Simbarashe Nyatsanza & Sakhikhaya Dlala
The Cape Peninsula University of Technology (CPUT) is being currently plagued by a series of student protests that have led to violent clashes with the police and private security on its two main campuses, and the suspension of the majority of classes. Students and student bodies are citing, among other issues, the university management’s failure to provide adequate residence for students in need, contractual disagreements regarding the insourcing of workers, and the recent suspension of four student leaders on charges of incitement, trespassing and unlawful conduct.
The activities at CPUT have drawn condemnation from various neoliberal interest groups, some of which have gone as far as describing its student space as uncoordinated and reactionary, without necessarily putting into consideration the legitimately concerning issues raised by the protesting students. These groups, whose presence is rather vague on the two main campuses, are sparing university management the need for accountability and are instead blatantly calling for the arrest and prosecution of any students implicated in the increasingly violent protests.
The executive management of CPUT does not take the concerns of the students and workers at its institutions seriously. After numerous attempts by the current SRC to engage with management on the residence issue, a meeting was granted during which it was agreed by both parties to accommodate the homeless students in various under-capacitated residences owned by the university. A day after this meeting, the university successfully opened charged of intimidation against, and later went on to suspend, the four main student leaders who were involved in the negotiations.
In September 2016, the Council of CPUT approved insourcing. In practice, this meant that the ancillary staff of the university could now became permanent employees. It was the executive management’s task to implement this. However, by August 2017 no progress had yet been made in this regard; workers had not yet received permanent contracts. In other words, the executive management of CPUT had failed to uphold its own contractual obligations.
This is what led to the first wave of student protests, which were quickly abated after the Council intervened, issuing the workers with contracts which, among other stipulates, offered a R 4000 minimum salary. The workers rejected this offer, rightly calling it an insult to their services towards the university. This move set into motion the second wave of protests.
It is irrational and incompetent for the management of CPUT to suspend students for making demands approved by the same management. By making false agreements the management are grossly undermining the integrity and insulting the intelligence of workers, who, for many years in some cases, have been faithful to the university. This in more than one way directly compromises the livelihoods and well-being of the workers many of whom have no other sources of income.
Students are using protest action as their only means to hold management accountable for its decision. The suspension of the four student leaders, possibly meant to intimidate and deter the students from further protest, has done nothing but intensify the students’ fury and has made them even more determined to see that the university honours its own agreements.
As of Monday the 11th of September, the university has reacted by deploying private security on campus, and calling on the South African Police Service for assistance in containing the increasingly volatile situation. It should be noted that it is the clash with these forces, mainly with private security, which is made up mostly of ex-military servicemen from various African countries, that has brought in a violent element into the protests. When attacked or deeming itself to be under violent threat, the student body protects by all means necessary. This has however led to the unfortunate destruction of property on the two main campuses. Furniture has been destroyed and buildings have been set on fire.
To add further to the woes of the CPUT management, this week we learnt that about 28 private security guards employed by an allegedly unregistered and fraudulent company were detained by the Cape Town Cluster Crime Prevention Unit under the Private Security Industry Regulatory Authority (PSIRA) Act 56/2001. It beggars belief that CPUT management could act in such a negligent and grossly incompetent manner that endangers not only the students but the property of the university.
Even more interesting is that this week the university installed politician, Thandi Modise, as its Chancellor. Though this is a ceremonial position, it will be interesting to see how she uses her political influence to reduce the growing tensions between students and management. It is also worth remembering that the new Chancellor held the premiership position at the time of the Marikana Massacre and one could say that she failed dismally to use her influence to avert the tragedy. With CPUT campuses resembling a military base, through the clandestine use of private security and trigger happy police, one ought to ask: are we headed for a CPUT massacre?
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Vernac News.