Fort Hare, nursing students at impasse as learning stops

Nursing students at the University of Fort Hare’s East London campus yesterday entered their third week of boycotting classes, with their main demand being the removal of their department head.

NO END IN SIGHT: Protest by nursing students from the University of Fort Hare in East London enters its third week. Picture: SINO MAJANGAZA

Academic programmes ground to a halt again yesterday when more than 300 nursing students stayed away from classes and protested outside the university premises in protest at a number of grievances they said management was not interested in resolving.

Among their demands is the removal of acting head of department Ntombana Rala, whom students accuse of “running the department like her own farm”.

It is not the first time the students have complained about Rala’s conduct.

Earlier this year she was moved to work with postgraduate students after undergraduate students accused her of victimising them.

There seems to be no end in sight to their protest as in their memorandum of grievances, the students yesterday vowed not to return to classes until their demands, including the removal of Rala, were met.

The university management has told the students that Rala is going nowhere as removing her will infringe her employment rights.

“We as nursing students are resolute that we are not going back to classes until all these demands are met.

“If it needs be, the vice-chancellor [Dr Sakhele Buhlungu] can close the department like he has been so eager to do so in the past two weeks,” reads part of their memorandum.

The university has made it clear it will not concede to the students’ demands.

Instead, it reiterated its call for students to return to class.

Fort Hare spokesman Khotso Moabi yesterday said: “The university is open for business and we want them to come back to class and let us engage.”

Moabi added: “We are not going to concede to their demands.

“We have been engaging with the students for over three weeks now in trying to resolve these matters”.

Moabi said dismissing Rala would infringe on the employee’s rights.

He further said their investigation into Rala’s matter “had found nothing”, and thus, “We have no grounds to act against her”.

At least three students have already been served with letters notifying them of the university’s intention to suspend them for taking part in demonstrations at the campus when the class boycott started more than two weeks ago.

Yesterday the students also demanded that the university abandon its plans to suspend the affected students.

They say if the university fails to withdraw the letters of intended suspensions, “we as nursing students demand that we all be issued with those notices of suspension,” read part of their memorandum.

The students were supposed to hand over a memorandum to the university management, but when they learnt that Buhlungu would not be present to accept it, they refused to hand it over to anyone else.

In reaction, Moabi said: “The vice-chancellor had other engagements and he was not aware that this protest was going to happen, hence he could not be there.

“We have made the deputy vice-chancellor available, and all they needed to do was to submit their memorandum to him and we take it from there.”

— sinom@dispatch.co.za

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