The situation at the Walter Sisulu University in the Eastern Cape is still not ideal for studies to resume. The staff members at the university have been on strike for the past five weeks. The wage disputes and student unrests have made it impossible to continue to accommodate students on the campuses of the institution until the strike is over. Speaking on behalf of the university, Professor L.R. van Staden announced that the university would be closed until further notice.
According to media reports, van Staden issued a statement which read: “The volatile situation that is unfolding has made it impossible for management to risk or to guarantee the safety and well-being of our students and the communities in which they live.” He went on to say: “Students must be off all university premises at the four campuses by 12 noon on Wednesday 28 August, 2013.” The institution made arrangements for international students and those who were not immediately able to return home.
The workers demand a wage increase that the institution says it cannot afford. As the strike progressed, students began to feel anxious about their exam preparations and responded by staging protests.
The unions representing the strikers are the National Education, Health and Allied Workers’ Union and the National Tertiary Education Union. They are negotiating for a salary increase of 8% to 10% but the university insists that it cannot offer anything higher than 4.25% which would be backdated to January. The university showed its commitment to the wage negotiations by saying that it would agree to an independent analysis of its financial standing in an effort to see if it may be able to work out a budget that will allow for a higher wage increase.
The university is drowning in debt and may even be declared bankrupt. The university was formed when Border Technikon, Eastern Cape Technikon and the University of Transkei merged. The merger of these institutions was not helpful in the resolution of financial challenges.
Political organizations spoke against the on-going strike and urged the concerned parties to find a solution so that classes can resume. The Democratic Alliance wants the Department of Higher Education and Training to become a visible facilitator of the efforts to end the strike. The DA requested that the matter be discussed in parliament.
The negotiations continue and no agreement has been reached.