By Adryan Ogle
DURBAN – Students at the Durban University of Technology (DUT) have not had a smooth sailing this year due to protests that have erupted across some of its campuses over the past few weeks, sparking concerns for many students attending the institution as bewilderment hangs in the balance.
Management and permanent staff from the university’s key departments including IT and Finance have continued to strike after failing to have their demands met over an increase in wages.
A Troublesome Impasse
Despite staff from the university meeting with the National Health Education and Allied Workers’ Union (Nehawu), National Education and the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA), workers were left displeased after an impasse was reached.
On Monday, numerous permanent staff members from the Faculty of Accounting and Informatics communicated that a refusal to work would persist if the deadlock was not resolved.
The staff felt disrespected by the way in which they were treated, claiming that management had been dragging its feet to resolved the issues. They also noted that no work would be done to catch up on missed lectures and registration.
The ongoing unrest has had an adverse effect on the commencement of the academic programme, leaving some returning students unregistered for their courses and others in hot-water with legitimising their sponsorships and bursaries, a process verified by the finance department.
Panic and Fear Hangs Over
Third-year students are nervous about the impact that such a hiatus will have on their Work Integrated Learning (WIL), a mandatory prerequisite which allows students to be certified by the university that the enrolled qualification has been successfully completed.
If the students fail to find an internship lasting the stipulated amount of time that their course requires, they risk not graduating in early 2019.
Panic and uncertainty have been the general sentiments of third-year students from all faculties. Despite such, the academic programme for students at DUT’s City Campus has begun, albeit being postponed by more than a week.
“This interruption has made me wonder if we’ll complete on time,” says a third-year Journalism student, Alicia Naidoo.
Naidoo claims that classes being postponed by six days have made her fearful of the even more stringent deadlines ahead. “Because our deadlines were delayed, what we’ll find is that they’re going to be closer together. We have to go off for internships by the beginning of June. I’m just hoping that everything works out,” she voices.
Whilst some national diploma students may have had a start to classes, others aren’t so lucky.
Talisha Moodley, a third-year Biomedical Technology student from the University’s ML Sultan Campus, says her biggest fear about the strike is that she will not be prepared for her in-service, when she has to secure a six-month placement.
“It’s really worrying for me because it’s my final year of the diploma and we’re doing our in-service this year. So when we go back the work is going to be a lot,” says Moodley.
Moodley, among many others, is not sure when classes will resume and has been waiting to receive instruction from University’s communique.
A Simultaneous Protest: Irony and Controversies
However, not all students are willing to wait for things to settle. Some have joined forces to embark on their own protest.
The DUT South African Students Congress (DUT SASCO) met at the University’s Steve Biko Campus on Wednesday, communicating as they held a memorandum in which students expressed their concerns.
DUT SASCO complained about students being unable to establish instalment plans at the finance department, stating that the temporal staff were unable to do so. The student body also emphasised concerns about there being a shortage of residences available to house students.
Ironically, the students and staff were both gathered at the Campus in order to embark on a simultaneous protest.
Staff and students of DUT protest simultaneously at the meeting point at Steve Biko Campus on Wednesday. The photo was taken by Thabiso Goba.
Staff were striking over pay, and students were protesting as a result of all the arising problems due to the demonstration of the staff.
The M17 tactical team was deployed with riot gear in order to ensure that the protests were conducted in a peaceful manner, unlike two weeks ago when authorities fired rubber bullets at the staff and students which fuelled more tension.
M17 Security guards on riot gear as they follow protesters at DUT’s Ritson Campus on Wednesday. The photo was taken by Thabiso Goba.
In the midst of all the controversy, City Campus final-year students quietly attend lectures on their isolated campus, hoping to get a somewhat peaceful start to the most intense year for many of them.
Lecturers have been doing the best they can, but without Information Technology Services staff being at work, online classes cannot be set up.
In the interim, book and pen were sufficed for the students who have not yet received their study guides nor course material due to the strike.
Some students were actually looking forward to the academic year but now find themselves on the brink of disappointment. “There’s really no time to enjoy my major but rather just rush to get it all done on time,” says a third-year student from City Campus.
There is hope in the hearts of many returning students that university life will normalise soon. Nevertheless, whilst staff continue to strike and students have not yet been given instruction to return to campus, confusion hangs in the balance.
(Adryan Ogle: firstname.lastname@example.org)