Rhodes University management attempts to try and prevent a campus shutdown were dealt a blow yesterday when support staff threw their support behind the fees must fall protesters.
The decision to support the protests came after the South African Students Congress (Sasco) called for a national two-day shutdown of universities – leaving alliance partners like the National Education, Health and Allied Workers Union (Nehawu) with little choice but to join in.
Lengthy meetings between management and Nehawu and National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU) representatives were held after catering staff in several residences were allegedly intimidated by protesters and ordered not to work.
After hours of talks, catering staff were instructed to go home for the afternoon.
A statement from NTEU said the decision had been taken “as a good faith attempt to de-escalate the situation on campus”. All other staff were however urged to stay at work.
Nehawu shop steward Vuyani Jacobs however told the Dispatch that support staff had been told to go home yesterday afternoon until further notice. He said workers would be informed by SMS after more meetings with management yesterday afternoon whether they would work today.
Jacobs said it was agreed that the academic programme would however continue. The decision to join protesters came two days after Rhodes University Nehawu executive said they supported the call for free higher education that was being led by students. A statement circulated across campus on Tuesday however said protests should be conducted in a disciplined, peaceful and democratic way.
“An attack on our university and making it unsafe to work in, whether by police or a small group of violent students, we feel is an attack on all workers. We say not to violence on our university,” it said.
“Our position as Nehawu, the voice of the working class in our university is clear: the doors of learning culture must remain open.”
Students went to kitchens and asked staff to vacate their workstations. Staff were sent home and will be back at work tomorrow. There are plans in place to prevent this from happening tomorrow. The academic programme is continuing.
There is a meeting scheduled for tomorrow morning with university stakeholders. — firstname.lastname@example.org